In a new recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (Champs Hill), usually for huge orchestra and two soloists but here in the piano autograph version, the contralto Claudia Huckle and tenor Nicky Spence, with pianist Justin Brown, capture all the vitality and intensity of this orchestral song cycle, completed in 1909: from the first entry of the tenor, who hurtles in on high with his Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow, to the infinite tenderness of the contralto’s Der Abschied, which in its half-hour length matches the total of the five songs that precede it.
Huckle had the idea to do the piano version during lockdown, feeling that post-pandemic life might never allow her to sing the work in concert. Let’s hope she does. She is perfectly suited, and has ideal musical companions in Spence, and in Brown, who helps you hear the orchestral colours in his playing. Das Lied, an impassioned if lopsided work, becomes more approachable on this scale – a good way in to a work that can seem overwhelming.
More than four decades since its foundation, the ensemble Gothic Voices – usually four voices, with occasional additions – has lost none of its finesse or gleam. Newer groups, inspired by their example, have sprung up since, but Gothic Voices’ performance of medieval music remains peerless. Their pioneering 1985 album of music by Hildegard of Bingen, A Feather on the Breath of God, remains the best (and bestselling) of its kind.
The ensemble’s latest, The Splendour of Florence (Linn), subtitled “With a Burgundian Resonance”, with Andrew Lawrence-King on harp, features songs and motets by the Franco-Flemish composers Dufay and Ockeghem and others, mostly drawn from two Florentine sources. Detailed notes by the group’s tenor, Julian Podger, invite us into the world of early Renaissance Italy: enough to say, here, that the last work on the disc, Dufay’s Nuper rosarum flores, was written for the consecration of Florence’s new cathedral in 1436. Whether or not this music really mirrors the magical proportions of the city’s most famous landmark, it is certainly just as sublime.