Cher Public

The good earth

As a (by chance long-scheduled) follow-up to recent postings about Janet Baker who turns 84 later this month, “Trove Thursday” presents the English mezzo in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde from 1970 partnered by Jess Thomas and conducted by Josef Krips


I don’t recall much past discussion of Mahler on this site, but a nice response to my review of the Met Orchestra’s recent cycle at Carnegie Hall suggested there’s an abiding interest. “Montag mit Marianne” featured the Eighth Symphony a bit ago and “Trove Thursday” dipped its toe in the pond early last year with a Jonas Kaufmann Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

I’ve always responded more to the vocal works than the long sprawling symphonies though a number of them of course contain sung sections. My early fascination with Baker may have brought me to Mahler as I recall regularly borrowing her cycles recorded with Sir John Barbirolli from the library although also I bought at my local Peaches the LP of the Bruno Walter/Kathleen Ferrier/Julius Patzak Das Lied early in my listening days as well. The sumptuous, gloomy pull of these works worked their spell on me.

The first live Mahler I ever heard was on my 21st birthday (!)—the Cincinnati Symphony played (and then recorded) Das Lied with Lili Chookasian and Richard Cassilly conducted by Walter Susskind. We sat very close (student tickets, you know) and it was overwhelming. I’ve never been crazy about Baker’s commercial recording of Das Lied with James King and Bernard Haitink as it probably was captured a bit late so I instead sought out live performances including this one.

The five-part series about my fascination with live “pirates” recordings began here two years ago this week and led to La Cieca’s invitation to curate this series. The very first “Trove Thursday” featured Baker’s Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens and two live examples of her sovereign Handel performances followed—Imeneo and Giulio CesareThere will surely be others in the future. Meanwhile, full-length operas return next week!

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
San Francisco Symphony
March 1970

Janet Baker
Jess Thomas

Josef Krips, conductor

This week’s Mahler can be downloaded by clicking on the icons of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory. More than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Christian Ocier

    Baker’s essaying of the mezzo songs in DLvdE is indeed a revelation! While I understand that her voice was no longer in pristine condition by the time she, King, and Haitink recorded the piece with the Concertgebouw in 1975, her ability to plumb the text’s layers of melancholy, of love for nature and the earth, and resignation are paralleled by few. Only Christa Ludwig and Anne Sofie von Otter are her equals in this regard. Have you heard the wonderful recording she did with Kubelik and Waldemar Kmentt?

    It’s quite nice to hear Jess Thomas’ honeyed tenor in the odd songs. I’ve always admired his voice and artistry, and while he never reached the interpretive intensity reached by Vickers or King, he definitely ranks as one of my favorite dramatic tenors for the youthful timbre of his voice, his phrasing, and his musicality. Certainly, our operatic stages would benefit from a voice such as his today.

    • CCorwinNYC

      I only know this live performance and the one with John Mitchinson released on CD on the BBC label, but I will look for the Kubelik. I understand there is also a broadcast floating around from Philadelphia under Ormandy with John Alexander. Thanks!

    • John Huizinga

      Baker’s live recordings of Das Lied are the incomparable treasures of the literature — each, partly due to different conductors and tenors, is subtly different but each is articulated with technical precision in the service of the human spirit. I find the Ludwig renditions admirable but not quite at the same level. Fassbaender is strikingly different, as always, and is an additional library choice to be considered — but it’s a studio recording.