CD – Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder

Anne Schwanewilms places Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder  where music goes beyond music. She describes the five-part song-cycle as five stages of grieving, in which a whole world of emotion – from sorrow to disbelief, from horror to rage – is contained. The 25-minute farewell becomes an intimate dialogue with her accompanist Malcolm Martineau, in which voice and piano complement each other in diffidence and searching. The sheer speechlessness becomes sound that leaves the listener dumb.
The piano version takes us close to the elusive heart of Mahler’s emotional world. Without the glamorous colours and pain-easing detail of the orchestral transcription, we have here the very essence of the grief itself. This is ideal for a singer like Schwanewilms, who has never feared to show her own vulnerability. The combination of vigour and fragility in ‘In diesem Wetter’, the maternal warmth in ‘Wenn dein Mütterlein’, the poetic unearthliness in ‘Nun will sie Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n ‘– allow a more complete interpretation of the Kindertotenlieder than seemed conceivable.
The Rückert Lieder also make perfect territory for the emotional depths that Schwanewilms invariably explores. The religious ecstasy of ‘Um Mitternacht’ is  beyond praise, and ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden bekommen’ creates a moment when time and existence itself seem to stop. Martineau senses and complements the singer superbly. His own artistic approach, too, is never constrained, and his lyrical potential never exhausted. On the contrary, both allow him to paint a bold palette of feelings. ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ is another undoubted  high point. The lighter, Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs, like ‘Scheiden und Meiden’, find Schwanewilms less effulgent, although here, too, the duo command Mahler’s lusty characterisations exceptionally well.  This recital sets a benchmark in Mahler recordings for many years to come.
As prologue to Mahler’s manifold vision of heartfelt sorrow, Schwanewilms chooses Schoenberg’s Opus 2. She fills this rather mystical template with an enigmatic singing, while Martineau supports her with the tact  he has to his finger-tips. The partnership  begins with an unusually intense ‘Erwartung’ and delivers a musical revelation…

Jan-Jakob Delanoye
© Cutting Edge – 2 augustus 2015