Sarah Connolly / Toby Spence / Yannick Nézet-Séguin / London Philharmonic Orchestra

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

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Gustav Mahler is said to have avoided calling Das Lied von der Erde his Symphony No. 9 because of the jinx associated with Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorák, and Bruckner having died after composing their ninth symphonies but before completing a tenth. It didn't work: he went on to compose a Symphony No. 9 but didn't live to finish the Symphony No. 10. But in truth Das Lied von der Erde, though it certainly has aspects in common with Mahler's symphonies, is also a song cycle. Quebec conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin realizes this and directs the London Philharmonic Orchestra accordingly, with close-up energy, instrumental solos, and small detail privileged over weighty power. The songs featuring tenor Toby Spence have plenty of sass. There's still a lot of weighty power, of course, and the London Philharmonic, recorded live on apparently a single occasion, executes everything without noticeable flaws; the recording has a definite live energy. All this said, the reason to pick this recording over others is the presence of British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, especially in the transcendent, half-hour final movement, "Der Abschied" (The Farewell). She's transcendent herself as the music rises into the ether and dissolves, and Nézet-Séguin scores again in this black belt of conducting where a sense of rhythm almost dissolves. If you're wavering because of the live sound, don't be; there's hardly an audience murmur in evidence, and the orchestra's engineers, working in its home space of the new Royal Festival Hall, distinguishes all the different textures clearly. Super Audio sound is one way to go with this work, but it's worth nothing that a good live recording now is easily the equivalent of an ordinary studio recording of a few decades back.

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