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Das Lied von der Erde - Thorborg - Kullman | IPCD 1090-3

Reviews for IPCD 1090-3



MAHLER: DAS LIED VON DER ERDE


MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde • Artur Rodziński, cond; Kerstin Thorborg (a); Charles Kullman (t); New York P • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1090-3 mono (3 CDs: 225:22)


& MAHLER Ich bin der Welt. SCHUBERT Die Allmacht. Horch, Horch. BRAHMS Sappische Ode. WOLF Gesang Weylas. Kennst du das Land. WAGNER Wesendonck Lieder: Träume. VERDI Il trovatore: Act III, Scene 1; Act IV, Scene 2. MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov: Act III, Scene 1; Scene 2, abridged (Kerstin Thorborg, Various artists and accompaniments)


& MEYER Das Zauberlied. STOLZ Ich sing’ mein Lied. Mein Herz ruft immer. KORNGOLD Das Lied der Liebe: Die eine Frau; Du bist mein Traum. MEISEL Die Sonne geht auf. Marie Luise. KÁLMÁN Die Zirkusprinzessin: 2 Märchenaugen. VERDI Il trovatore: Scenes. PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Bimba, bimba dagli occhi. WAGNER Die Meistersinger: Prize Song. BIZET Carmen: Micaela-José Duet; Flower Song. Escamillo-José Duet; Final Scene. MASSENET Manon: Act I duet (Charles Kullman, Various artists and accompaniments)


Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine
November/December 2017


This set serves as a wonderful showcase for two great singers from the middle third of the 20th century, Swedish mezzo Kerstin Thorborg (1896–1970) and American tenor Charles Kullman (1903–1983). Both had long and successful careers at the Metropolitan, Kullman in particular singing 402 performances in that house between 1935 and 1960. Thorborg’s name is remembered better today, even though both took part in the important first recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Bruno Walter with the Vienna Philharmonic (a 1936 live recording).


One might question the value of this recording of Das Lied von der Erde, when one can get the same two singers in their younger years and under the baton of Mahler’s colleague and the man who gave the work its world premiere, Bruno Walter. Indeed that 1936 VPO recording is essential to any serious Mahler collection, and one could not make that case for this. Taken on its own merits, however, this performance has much to recommend it. The real value of this set, however, is the solo material with Thorborg and Kullman that fills out the first disc plus two others. More about that later.


It is interesting that in overall timing, Rodziński at 58:05 is virtually a complete match for the Walter Vienna Philharmonic performance, both of them being at the quick end of the spectrum. The other end is occupied by the likes of Bernstein (66’), Colin Davis (68’), and Jascha Horenstein (69’). If you ever needed proof that actual speed is not the most significant element of a performance, Rodziński’s and Walter’s performances will provide it. Walter sounds slower because of more relaxed phrasing and more gentle articulation of much of the music. There is, however, something attractive in a different way about the incisiveness of the rhythms and clarity of orchestral textures, as well as the disciplined precision of the orchestra, under Rodziński. He is most effective in the more energetic passages, particularly in “Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde” and “Von der Jugend.” But even in the touching orchestral passages of the great final “Der Abschied” one hears detail frequently smudged over elsewhere. At the same time, Rodziński does convey the music’s inner emotions. Artur Rodziński was a very important conductor, who would have surely had a more important career were he not virtually impossible for managements to work with. As for the two singers, both so clearly knew and loved this score that they sing it with total command of the music’s phrases and shape. Thorborg’s voice had lost some of the remarkable richness it had in 1936, but was still a sound of great beauty. Kullman was still at the peak of his vocal powers in 1944. While I would never part with that 1936 Vienna recording, I would not be without this one either.


Then we get to the bonus material, and that is what makes this set irreplaceable. Starting with Thorborg, we get Mahler’s great song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” taken live from the same concert as that first recording of Das Lied von der Erde, so you can actually hear the difference in her singing of Mahler from 1936 to 1944. That recording has long been considered a classic for a reason. The Lieder performances date from 1940, except for the Wesendonck song with orchestra from 1935. The Trovatore and Boris Godunov performances are from Met broadcasts, respectively from 1943 and 1939, and they amply demonstrate the versatility of this great artist. Her Azucena is thoroughly idiomatic, and she is ably partnered by Arthur Carron (Manrico) and Francesco Valentino (di Luna). During that period at the Met one might get either Thorborg or the phenomenal Bruna Castagna as Azucena—a true period of vocal riches. Thorborg had the lusher, more richly beautiful sound, but she also had the ability to put acid in the tone when the drama required it. The best discovery for me in the Thorborg material were the two scenes from Boris Godunov, in particular the big duet between Marina and Dimitri, the latter sung by Kullman. This is rich, heroic singing in the grand tradition, thrilling in its intensity and vocal richness.


Even more important a discovery lies waiting in the Kullman material, if for no other reason that he never achieved the fame of Thorborg despite his lengthy career. His voice was a lovely lyric tenor, but it lacked the distinctive beauty of a Björling or Melchior, or the power of a Martinelli. Thus he was damned with words of praise like “admired,” “respected,” or even “valuable.” And what he did not have was a major recording career. Listening to the material here, one wishes we had a tenor like this today. He sails through the operetta excerpts, as well as the Korngold, with a quite remarkable sense of how that music goes (remarkable when one considers that he was an American and not an Austrian). The voice is lovely and he floats some gorgeous high pianissimos. It is then thrilling to hear him muster the needed power for Manrico in a riveting performance with Cloë Elmo, followed by a soaringly beautiful Love Duet from Madama Butterfly, beginning at “Bimba, bimba dagli’occhi,” with Dorothy Kirsten. Both are from The Standard Hour in 1948. Three years earlier on The Standard Hour he sang all the important scenes for Don José from Carmen, with Eleanor Steber as Micaëla, Risë Stevens as Carmen, and Mack Harrell as Escamillo. (Whatever happened to commercial broadcasting and classical music)? And to close the third disc, there is a wonderful performance of the act I duet from Manon with Bidú Sayão. What stays in the memory is the complete comfort that Kullman displays with the varying musical styles of Mahler, Puccini, Verdi, Massenet, and Stolz. He adds some uniquely beautiful moments of shading (particularly in the Butterfly and Manon duets) that demonstrate true artistry. This should spark a reassessment of Kullman, whose ability to sing with remarkable sweetness, or to add appropriate metal to the tone when a more dramatic sound is called for, seems to me quite rare among tenors of that or any other period.


The usual extraordinary production standards of Immortal Performances apply. The sonic restoration work is as good as is possible today. The booklet contains a very informative essay on the Mahler by Dewey Faulkner, and then a second intelligent and perceptive article about Thorborg and Kullman from Fanfare’s Ken Meltzer. Unusually, the full German texts and English translations are included, and there are some wonderful photos and artwork as well. The recording includes broadcast commentary, which I always enjoy as it brings back a long-gone era of radio. But it is all separately tracked, so if you prefer not to hear it you can easily skip it. Immortal Performances stands as an example of how to present historical recorded material in the best possible way. To make it even more attractive, Immortal Performances is selling the three-disc set for the price of two discs.




MAHLER: DAS LIED VON DER ERDE


MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde • Artur Rodziński, cond; Kerstin Thorborg (a); Charles Kullman (t); New York P • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1090-3 mono (3 CDs: 225:22)


& MAHLER Ich bin der Welt. SCHUBERT Die Allmacht. Horch, Horch. BRAHMS Sappische Ode. WOLF Gesang Weylas. Kennst du das Land. WAGNER Wesendonck Lieder: Träume. VERDI Il trovatore: Act III, Scene 1; Act IV, Scene 2. MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov: Act III, Scene 1; Scene 2, abridged (Kerstin Thorborg, Various artists and accompaniments)


& MEYER Das Zauberlied. STOLZ Ich sing’ mein Lied. Mein Herz ruft immer. KORNGOLD Das Lied der Liebe: Die eine Frau; Du bist mein Traum. MEISEL Die Sonne geht auf. Marie Luise. KÁLMÁN Die Zirkusprinzessin: 2 Märchenaugen. VERDI Il trovatore: Scenes. PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Bimba, bimba dagli occhi. WAGNER Die Meistersinger: Prize Song. BIZET Carmen: Micaela-José Duet; Flower Song. Escamillo-José Duet; Final Scene. MASSENET Manon: Act I duet (Charles Kullman, Various artists and accompaniments)


Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
November/December 2017


Announcer Gene Hamilton refers to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde as a “poetic cycle.” I wonder if he meant a cycle of poetry or a cycle that is poetic in nature? It is Rodziński’s astonishing Das Lied that actually calls forth the question. The orchestral contribution is so tenderly wrought, so carefully delineated for the listener, that even in “Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde” it is the crushing weight of sadness that is most affecting. The level of orchestral detail, too, is astonishing: Just listen to the string trills. There is almost a chamber transparency to the scoring, yet there is no loss of emotional impact. A shame it goes awry in the first movement at “Jetzt nimmt den Wein,” and sounds a little less sure of itself thereafter. Interestingly, Kullman also adds a little grace note before the final “Tod,” by no means not in the style of the performance.


Kullman himself is vocally in top form, with a ringing, yet burnished, strong top. His “Von der Jugend,” accompanied by deliciously piping woodwinds, finds him taking it all in his stride; there is little sense of strain here. The balance of the orchestra is remarkable: One can hear everything from Kullman, and yet it sounds like nothing is held back orchestrally. Detail, too, is astonishing, as it is in the fourth movement, where the mandolin is beautifully rendered. His spring drunkard is a great piece of character singing: There is a lovely sense of near collapse as he gets out the words “Lass mich betrunken sei!” Rodziński’s lusty woodwind and brass turns speak openly of the exuberance of the drunk in mid-session.


Thorborg is even more remarkable, however, up there with the likes of Ferrier and Janet Baker. True, the ensemble between wind and brass is not all it could be early in the second song, “Der Einsame im Herbst,” but the recording preserves the richness of the cellos and horns brilliantly, while the passage just before “und meine bittern Tränen” has Rodziński finding waves of sound from his strings. After an exquisite preparation from Rodziński and his band, Thorborg gives a great “Von der Schönheit” (listen to Rodziński’s swooning strings at “und die schönste von der Jungfrau’n”); the sense of breathlessness before the return to the song’s opening is managed perfectly. But it is in the almighty “Abschied” that Thorborg comes into her own. Rodziński sets up a sense of desolation that Thorborg prolongs, enabling us in the process to relish each and every word. The ecstasy of “Wo bleibst du?” is remarkable, and it comes as much from the orchestra as it does from the singer. In fact, it is really the coupling of these two geniuses that raises this “Abschied” up to the level of the greats; the way Rodziński shapes the orchestral climax, and Thorborg’s heart-stopping, frozen response, illustrate this to perfection. The orchestral detail in the very final portion of “Der Abschied” acts as no mere Sinopoli-like X-ray to Mahler’s score, but instead the perfect support for Thorborg’s magnificent, transcendent farewell.


Incidentally, Immortal Performances subdivide the final movement into six separate tracks. How, then, to follow the great farewell? With another (almost) farewell by Mahler, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” this time with the great Bruno Walter and the luminous Vienna Philharmonic in a public performance from 1936, taken from an English Columbia. We get a glimpse of the transcendent glory of Thorborg in Lieder in Schubert’s Die Allmacht (where the proper contralto register is foregrounded as the song unfolds slowly and naturally), and of how interior she can be in the beautifully transferred Brahms offering, Sapphische Ode (the depth of Leo Rosenek’s piano is particularly well caught). The Wolf (Gesang Weylas) is shot through with integrity, and intensity. Rosenek is in fact a fabulous accompanist, as one can hear from his cheeky way with the piano part of Schubert’s Horch, horch! Die Lerch, and also from how he sets Wolf’s Kennst du das Land with a chord that is so perfectly together it sets the atmosphere immediately. This song in fact emerges as something of a tone poem; the pianist’s close of the song is just as memorable as his opening.


But, back to Thorborg: a 1940 Wagner “Träume” in rather compromised, distant sound (rather as if it is at the other end of a tunnel—this is a 1935 radio recording) is well sung beyond doubt, if truncated also. The Trovatore excerpts, with Carron, Valentino, and Roman, find Thorborg as Azucena. There is some slightly messy choral work initially, but it becomes nice and lusty thereafter. Yet there is much that follows that is absolutely gripping. As for Boris, Thorborg is simply superb. One has to admit that in this very non-Russian performance, the end of act III scene 2 does not really sound too Russian, but one has to factor in that it’s Thorborg we’re here for.


The final disc highlights Charles Kullman. I have to confess that I did write in my notes, “Oh dear, what on Earth is this doing here?” when I first saw the listing (or, if I’m being honest, words to that effect): From the likes of Mahler and Wagner, we are suddenly in the rather cloying world of operetta. The sudden carpet of sound is something of a shock: Have a (long) cup of tea after the Mussorgsky to clear your own memory cache, that’s my advice. That accomplished, there is much to enjoy here in these early recordings (1932) with an unnamed orchestra, in superb transfers. A highlight is Stolz’s Ich sing’ mein Lied, most sensitively done by Kullman. As to the 1948 Trovatore excerpts, Cloë Elmo is his contralto side-kick, and while Kullman is impressive, Elmo is rather hooty at higher dynamics; Kullman comes into his own at “Ai nostri monti.” If his Puccini is less impressive, the rather anonymous orchestral contribution hardly helps. Much better, at least from Kullman, is the honeyed Prize Song: He throws himself into it, particularly at the climax.


Finally, we turn to French opera. A rather swoopy orchestra is balanced by Kullman at maximum ardent lyricism, impeccably French in aspect, and a simply astonishing Eleanor Steber in their Act I duet. The concluding Carmen excerpt, the final duet from act IV of Kullman with Risë Stevens, is white-hot. (Incidentally, Stevens features in the 1938 Met Mignon on Immortal Performances). We are left with a single excerpt from Massenet Manon to cool us off: the act I duet, with Sayão, no less, adding to the mix. Fragrant and wonderful, there could hardly be a finer close to this most stimulating set.


We’ve come a long way from Mahler’s Das Liedv; this set presents quite a journey. The engineer at Immortal Performances has performed his usual miracles. Superb booklet notes by Ken Meltzer round off an inspired offering.




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