Transcribing Mahler's five Rückert Lieder plus Wagner's five Wesendonck Lieder and Prelude and "Love-Death" from Tristan und Isolde for soprano plus piano quartet raises fascinating performance possibilities. Shorn of their orchestral forces, the transcriptions make the works available for chamber-sized ensembles, and one imagines hearing all manner of polyphonic lines and harmonic details with amazing clarity.
In that regard, this recording of pianist/composer Christian Favre's transcriptions of Mahler and Wagner by soprano Felicity Lott and the Quatuor Schumann does not disappoint. Start with the Tristan Prelude: though one at first misses the orchestral colors, the intensity and lucidity of the French ensemble's playing amply compensates for the loss. But the group's performance is compromised by English soprano Felicity Lott. One of the great English sopranos of the later years of the twentieth century, Lott's voice was not nearly what it had been when this recording was made in 2007. Here, Lott's tone is less luxurious and more restrained, her technique less virtuosic and more cautious, and her colors less nuanced and more brazen. Though her voice is still lovely in quieter passages, Lott seems to be straining in the climaxes. Thus, while the evanescent coda of Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" sounds suitably ethereal, the climaxes of his "Um Mitternacht" and Wagner's "Love-Death" seem weak, even puny. Captured in close, vivid sound by Aeon, this recording is worth hearing by anyone who already loves these works and is looking for fascinating new ways to perform them. But while they might be impressed by Favre's arrangements and the Quatuor Schumann's performances, they might also wish a different soprano had been engaged.