Karen Cargill - Mahler: Lieder - MusicWeb International

Alma Mahler's songs are no longer rare birds, either on the recital platform or on disc. That is good since they are certainly worth anyone's attention. The five songs on this disc were published in 1910; a further nine were also published during her lifetime and in 2000 another two.

Die stille Stadt is a song that grows every time I hear it and Laue Sommernacht is also highly evocative. The Rilke setting Bei dir ist es traut and the brief Heine setting Ich wandle unter Blumen are also worth a listen but it is In meines Vaters Garten by Otto Erich Hartleben that is the masterpiece with thrilling chromatics and a beautiful piano part. Whether Gustav had a finger in the pie when the songs were published is hard to know but he regarded them highly and regretted that he had forbidden her to compose after they got married.

Karen Cargill is an excellent advocate for Alma's songs. Her voice has youthful freshness and her affection for the songs is obvious.

When we move over to Gustav's songs we encounter a different sound-world, more distinctly personal but we must remember that Alma's songs were written before 1901 when she was hardly more than twenty.

The Rückert Lieder are commonly heard in the orchestral version but they were originally conceived for voice and piano. These are searching readings of the group. Not least Liebst du um Schönheit is marvellously sensitively sung. Um Mitternacht is very inward but the darker outbursts are truly intense and the final bars are spellbinding:
 
Herr! Herr über Tod und Leben
Du hälst die Wacht
Um Mitternacht!
 
(Lord! Ruler of life and death.
You have the watch,
At midnight.)

The magical opening of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen makes me think of Janet Baker's two recordings with Barbirolli. No praise could be higher. Karen Cargill keeps the tension all through the song.

Her youthful timbre suits Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen to perfection. A springy and incisive Ging heut' morgen with ethereal and inward final lines signals a reading of the whole cycle that is a match for many other recordings of this oft-heard set ... and I wasn't disappointed. The intense and dramatic Ich hab' ein glühend Messer is perhaps the highlight.

Urlicht from the Second Symphony isn't exactly a song I have been longing to hear with piano accompaniment but to my surprise it worked excellently and it is a deeply felt reading.

Simon Lepper is a reliable accompanist and the whole disc should be an attractive buy, not least for those who haven't as yet found the way to Alma Mahler's songs.    

MusicWeb International
01 September 2014