Befreit: A Soul Surrendered
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder; plus songs by Müller-Hermann, Schweikert and R Strauss
Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
Chandos CHAN20177 68:19 mins
The mood is distinctly sombre as Befreit (Released) charts a journey that culminates in Kindertotenlieder, Gustav Mahler’s setting of Rückert’s poems written in response to the deaths of two of his infant children.
While Mahler and Richard Strauss provide the starting point for Whately’s latest collaboration with pianist Joseph Middleton, typically the pair have contextualised the journey with songs by two lesser-known figures: Johanna Müller-Hermann, a doyenne of Mahler’s Vienna whose teachers included Zemlinsky; and, her junior of nearly ten years, the Karlsruhe-based Margarete Schweikert.
Judging from the songs given here (five apiece), Müller-Hermann’s is the stronger musical personality. The moonbathing of ‘Wie eine Vollmondnacht’, sultry and irresistible, draws highly-charged rapture from singer and pianist, and Whately finds the coyness as well as the pathos in ‘Der letzte Abend’. Her easy rapport with the sounds of sung-German – matched by Middleton’s silky pianistic sorcery – illuminates at every turn. Strauss’s ‘Morgen’ is gorgeously enrapt, its serene introduction exquisitely poised And shorn of orchestral sonorities, Kindertotenlieder insists that with an adroit pianist Mahler’s often sparse yet translucent piano writing can be equally affecting. Together Whately and Middleton tap the second song’s Tristan-esque intensity, whose shafts of major key benediction are consummated in the luminous D major transcendence of the cycle’s close.