Sunday Classics preview: Colin Davis's surprising triumph in Mahler
Tenor René Kollo sings "On Youth" from Mahler's Song of the Earth, with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in May 1972.
MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth):
iii. "Von der Jugend" ("On Youth")
[English translation by Deryck Cooke]
In the middle of the little pool
stands a pavilion of green
and of white porcelain.
Like the back of a tiger
arches the bridge of jade
over to the pavilion.
In the little house friends are sitting,
beautifully dressed, drinking, chatting;
several are writing verses.
Their silken sleeves slip
backwards, their silken caps
perch gaily on the back of their necks.
On the little pool's still
surface everything appears
fantastically in a mirror image.
Everything is standing on its head
in the pavilion of green
and of white porcelain;
Like a half-moon stands the bridge,
upside-down its arch. Friends,
beautifully dressed, are drinking, chatting.
In this series devoted to Colin Davis, my general proposition has been that most really good CD performances seem to result from our boy "just doing it" -- hearing basic qualities in music and executing them decisively. This doesn't leave a lot of room for imagination or "creative re-creation," or what in general I would think of as really enlightened or illuminating interpretation.
And then there was his recording of Mahler's Das Lied von Der Erde (The Song of the Earth), the song-symphony composed based on Hans Bethge's German translations of Chinese poems composed between the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies. Crucially, it was conceived and composed following the diagnosis of the composer's untreatable heart disease. It would be hard to think of a work that depends more on deep understanding, of empathetic projection of its tiniest musical cells. Not, in other words, material in which we would expect to hear CD at his most persuasive.
And certainly CD's other Mahler recordings -- of the First, Fourth, and Eighth Symphonies, that I know -- are the generally drab affairs one might expect. But the recording of Das Lied . . . .
TONIGHT WE FOCUS ON THE LITTLEST OF THE SONGS,
THE TENOR'S SECOND, "VON DER JUGEND" ("ON YOUTH")
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