MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (Janet Baker, ms/James King, ten), Kindertotenlieder / Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Hermann Prey, br), Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Jessye Norman, sop/John Shirley-Quirk, br)
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.

Philips Duo 454014 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 79:57 & 77:18  

These two well-filled budget CDs offer extraordinary value. Conductor Bernard Haitink carried on the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra's near century-old Mahler tradition in exemplary fashion, and all of these performances, recorded in the '70s, have been universally acclaimed. Here we have all of Mahler's music for solo voice(s) and orchestra excepting the five Rückert Lieder, in outstanding if not definitive interpretations. The third commercial Concertgebouw recording of Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), is here. The first was recorded in 1956 by Eduard van Beinum with mezzo-soprano Nan Merriman and tenor Ernst Häefliger—a pre-stereo recording recently issued on CD in Holland (Philips 462 068). The second one, under Eugen Jochum, was recorded in stereo by D.G. in March/April 1963 with the same soloists (DG 439 471). And there is the incredibly dramatic live performance of October 5, 1939, with two extraordinary soloists, Kirsten Thorborg and C. Martin Öhmann, with Carl Schuricht conducting, and fine recorded sound as well (Grammophono 2000). Haitink's performance is not as exalted as these, but surely among the top recordings of the score.

Hermann Prey (who died in July at the age of 69) is in fine form in Songs of a Wayfarer and  Kindertotenlieder. Soprano Jessye Norman and baritone John Shirley-Quirk are outstanding in the Knaben Wunderhorn settings of folk poetry (without the affectations that have marred so many of the soprano's later recordings. Both CDs are filled to near-maximum, although total timings are inaccurately listed. Program notes are limited, and unforgiveably there are no texts. In order to fit all this music onto just two CDs it was necessary to split Kindertotenlieder between the two CDs; a relatively minor negative feature.

R.E.B. (Sept. 1999)