, Saturday 17 August 2002
Tim Ashley
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, Edinburgh 2002
Das Lied von der Erde
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
The late-night concerts in the Usher Hall are fast becoming highlights of the international festival. This performance of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde kicked off even later than planned, due to a colossal queue for tickets.

In the end, however, it proved a shade disappointing, largely because of the decision to perform the "chamber version" of the piece rather than Mahler's original score. Opting for the latter would, it is true, have been exorbitantly expensive, but this edition - left unfinished at Schoenberg's death and completed by Rainer Rhien in 1983 - skews the work's impact. In place of the lush sonics with which Mahler evokes the cyclical renewal of nature in the face of human transience, we have a desiccated, almost clinical sound world that drains the score of emotion.

The singers were, however, stunning. The tenor was Jonas Kaufmann, whose Queen's Hall recital last year turned him into a sex symbol. Byronically glamorous, he has an astonishing voice, capable of negotiating Mahler's vocal writing with almost indecent ease. The mezzo was Alice Coote, gorgeously opulent in tone, shading the text towards tragic declamation rather than adopting a reflective approach. Garry Walker conducted the Edinburgh Festival Ensemble with tremendous dignity, although he failed to make a persuasive case for the version chosen.

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