Karen Cargill / Simon Lepper

Alma & Gustav Mahler: Lieder

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Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill has recorded large-scale vocal-orchestral music in the past; she participated in a fine LSO Live recording of Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ under the late Colin Davis. So nothing quite prepares the listener for how good this recording is. One might be drawn to it for the recordings of the rare lieder of Alma Mahler, or actually Alma Schindler, for she composed them before her marriage to Mahler in 1902 and his decision to forbid her to compose. They were published in 1910 after Alma began an affair with Walter Gropius and Gustav was keen to appease her. The five songs are modest in scale but deserve to be heard more often, and they resemble Gustav Mahler's lieder less than the early work of Webern. Cargill's performance is of just the dimension that would have been required for a Viennese song evening, and her enthusiasm for the material is palpable. The Gustav Mahler songs include the Rückert Lieder of 1901-1902, the four Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen of the 1880s, and the "Urlicht" movement from the giant Symphony No. 2 in C minor ("Resurrection"). "Urlicht" is a song from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection, and many of these songs have a sort of mystically expanded folkish element and found their way into Mahler's symphonies. Cargill is extraordinary in her control over the scope of these songs, sustaining them over their heavenly length while not breaking them out of their chamber dimensions. Sample the Rückert song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (track 10, "I have come loose from the world") for something that's both as close as one can come to an introduction in just six minutes to the essential Mahler and very beautiful in itself. A superb job from a singer who is getting her due.

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