Karen Cargill - Mahler: Lieder - New York Times (Live Review)
Two concerts, two British mezzo-sopranos, two rising British accompanists - and two performances of Mahler's "Rückert Lieder."
How many musical coincidences can there be in three days in New York?
Mahler aside, these recitals were quite unalike, not least for two very different voices. Karen Cargill has already drawn praise for Wagnerian roles at the Metropolitan Opera, but her satisfying performance with Simon Lepper at Weill Recital Hall on Friday was billed as her New York debut in songs. Sarah Connolly, whose superlative matinee on Sunday at Alice Tully Hall had Joseph Middleton at the Steinway, is at the peak of her career.
Mahler's five "Rückert Lieder" date from 1901-02. Written on either side of that composer's turbulent courtship of Alma Schindler, they are barely a set at all, and require a wide, even range and a profound emotional sensitivity. For British mezzos especially, the lineage of prior interpreters is daunting, stretching back beyond Janet Baker to Kathleen Ferrier.
Ms. Cargill, of course, is just starting out. She possesses startling power and a creamy middle range, if a little uncertain down low. To show off her punch, she lingered over Mahler's long lines rather than the intricacies of Rückert's poetry. That suited the perfumed ethereality of "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" and her forlorn view of "Um Mitternacht" and "Ich bin der Welt," but her diction might have been more nimble in "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder."
What to program with Mahler's most intimate songs? Ms. Cargill and the astute Mr. Lepper went for the ingenious theme of composers and their lovers. Wagner's "Wesendonck Lieder" and Grieg's Opus 48 songs, which were written for the composer's wife, Nina, were eloquently done. Most interesting were five student lieder by Alma soon-to-be-Mahler, who was taught by (and infatuated with) Alexander Zemlinsky. Alma clearly had talent despite Gustav's insistence in December 1901 that she cease composing, as Ms. Cargill showed in the Straussian "In meines Vaters Garten" and the aching "Laue Sommernacht." Ms. Cargill dedicated one of two encores - Marjory Kennedy-Fraser's "An Eriskay Love Lilt," from "The Songs of the Hebrides" - to the contralto Maria Radner, who died on Germanwings Flight 9525.