, August 2002
By Nina Large
Music Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (chamber version), Edinburgh, 14 August 2002
Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in Edinburgh
Usher Hall
Although it was not recognized numerically as part of Mahler's symphonic oeuvre, Das Lied von der Erde (composed in 1907, between the enormous Symphonies No. 8 and 9) was in fact written as a symphony with voices. Its six lyrics, set alternately for tenor and contralto, were translated from 8th-century Chinese poems; the last of them, the achingly beautiful and contemplative "Der Abschied," is a formidable artistic challenge for any singer — a challenge met superbly by Alice Coote.

Her colleagues, while laudable on the whole, weren't quite up to her exalted standard. The Edinburgh Festival Ensemble, energetically conducted by Garry Walker, played with precision and verve the reduction for chamber ensemble of Mahler's full orchestral score begun by Arnold Schoenberg in 1921 and completed by Rainer Riehn (who added celesta and harp to Schoenberg's forces) in 1983. Despite the relatively light scoring, unfortunately, the Usher Hall's somewhat cavernous acoustic sometimes swamped the soloists — in particular Jonas Kaufmann, whose rather thin upper range failed to penetrate. The tenor did display flashes of splendor, such as in the drinking song "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde," but other moments were ragged enough to seem more like a rehearsal than a professional performance: in "Der Trunkene im Frühling" ("The Drunkard in Spring"), his crossed arms and habit of burying his head in the score at the end of each phrase resulted in an inhibited, two-dimensional reading.

In contrast, Coote made beautiful use of her velvety, rich instrument. She imbued "Der Einsame im Herbst" ("The Solitary One in Autumn") with an internalized pathos and delicate sensitivity; "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell") was exquisitely shaped and deeply felt.

The performance, one of the late-night Usher Hall concerts for which tickets cost only £5, was warmly received by an enthusiastic and eclectic crowd. The introduction of this low-priced series has proven to be a huge success — what a pity that, as of this writing, the Edinburgh International Festival won't be continuing it in 2003.

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