Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Brunch – Christian Gerhaher Sings Mahler's Urlicht

Urlicht is the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony no 2. It is a setting of a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn; the title means Primal Light or Primordial Light. 

It’s not often heard apart from the symphony, and almost never (this is my first time, anyway) sung by a baritone.

Christian Gerhaher gives us a reason to reconsider this practice.  It’s been said that Herr Gerhaher’s voice is unremarkable, but that his interpretations compare favorably with those of the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I'm not sure I'd call it unremarkable—I find Gerhaher’s singing spellbinding.

Pianist Gerold Huber mirrors Gehaher’s interpretive skills. One almost doesn't notice there's no orchestra. Andrew McGregor of the BBC wrote that “Huber achieves pianistic miracles of colour and timing…”  Huber and Gerhaher work extensively (if not exclusively) together, and their collaborations are just that—they are equal partners in the music. This recording is the final, breathtaking song in a simply amazing Mahler recital.

O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht ich im Himmel sein!

Da kamm ich auf einer breiten Weg;
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen! 
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott! 
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis an das ewig selig Leben!

O red rose!
Man lies in direst need!
Man lies in deepest pain!
I would be rather in heaven!

I came upon a broad path:
and angel came and sought to turn me back.
Ah no! I would not be sent away!
I am from God, and to God I will return! 
Dear God will give me light, 
will light me to eternal, blessed life!

Translation by Lionel Salter 


  1. Gee, I fully agree with your reactions on Herr Gerhaher's voice. Nothing 'outstanding', yet so tuneful, so affecting, so musical.
    I don't know why it could be so, really.

    1. He is such a supreme artist! The opposite, of course, occurs too (I won't name any names): a supremely beautiful and unique voice paired with an absolute lack of artistry.


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