Scharich and the Alexander Quartet Perform Mahler


MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer. Rückert Lieder: Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, 5, 1. Kindertotenlieder / Kindra Scharich, mezzo; Alexander String Quartet / Foghorn Classics FCL2019

My regular readers know that I am not usually a fan of reduced arrangements of classical pieces written for full orchestra, mostly because I find them far less effective than the originals, but Sandy Alexander asked me to give this a try and, since I am a huge fan of his quartet, I complied.

All of these reductions were arranged by the group’s violinist Zakarias Grafilo, and they are indeed faithful to the originals in harmony and, so far as it goes, texture. In the Songs of a Wayfarer, in particular, I felt the reductions were charming but lacked the richness of the originals. But as in the case of any album of song cycles, the singer is for all intents and purposes the star of the show, and happily, mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich not only has a beautiful voice but an expressive one. She knows how to make the most of the text of each song she sings, and although I am not prepared to compare her to Christa Ludwig or Janet Baker, she does a very fine job on these songs. Her high range, in particular, has a bright, crystalline quality that I found particularly appealing.

Perhaps due to the chamber arrangements, Scharich does not sing most of these songs with a very strong, outward projection, but rather scales back her passion just a tad. This is most noticeable in the last two of the Songs of a Wayfarer, where she relies more on a light, almost airy projection of the voice and text to make her points. Without having to project over a full orchestra, it was probably a wise decision.

The Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder go rather better, in part because Mahler’s original orchestrations were lighter to begin with, thus the reductions seem to be better suited to the music. Considering the somewhat short length of the CD, however (57:03), I was a bit surprised that the other songs of the former cycle were not included. As one can see from the header to this review, they are also sung out of order. This in itself is not very damaging since the Rückert Lieder is more of a collage and not a cycle in the strict sense of the word. The quartet plays very strongly here, particularly in “Um Mitternacht.”

The quartet really does play the accompaniment to Kindertotenlieder with great feeling, and Scharich sings beautifully but without the depth of feeling that Klára Takacs, Cornelia Kallisch, Thomas Hampson and especially Heinrich Rehkemper (the best recording of this cycle, with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Jascha Horenstein) brought to it. Scharich sounds generically dolorous but not quite into the lyrics in a personal way. This is a shame, since a bit more depth of feeling from this obviously gifted singer would have made this one of the very best recorded performances of this cycle.

An interesting excursion, then, with some ups and downs in the overall interpretation of these ever-fascinating works.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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