Mahler: Totenfeier


In this live recording from the Royal Festival Hall the OAE shines its musical torch into the realms of some later repertoire, shedding new light on the music of Mahler. Conducted by Principal Artist Vladimir Jurowski, this CD includes Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), written in the wake of an unhappy affair with a soprano, and the extraordinarily exciting and powerful Totenfeier, Mahler’s first foray into orchestral music, and later reworked into the opening movement of his second symphony.




What people are saying

"The OAE’s period instruments emphasise its rawness, just as they point up the anguished detail of the accompaniments to the Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, in which mezzo Sarah Connolly allows the words and Mahler’s treatment of them to speak for themselves, without unnecessary gilding."  The Guardian, November 2012 

"Vladimir Jurowski’s brisk and thrusting account with the period instrument players of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment makes a strong case for the composer’s original thoughts."  The Irish Times

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment, Sarah Connolly, Vladimir Jurowski

Release date:24th Sep 2012
Order code:SIGCD259
Barcode: 635212025925

January 2013

This disc is something of an oddity with only 38 minutes of Mahler performed by period instruments!Michael Cookson has also reviewed it for this website and in general my impressions pretty well match his. I was rather wary of what the performance of Totenfeier would sound like, but needn’t have worried. For the most part, the orchestra does a splendid job and even, with fewer instruments than what one is used to in Mahler, creates quite an impact in the climactic moments. Only the low brass in a few places sounds insecure. Totenfeier is more of a rough draft of the Second Symphony’s first movement, but stands well enough on its own. Jurowski seems very much at home in Mahler, too, and the results here are exciting and also poignant during the quiet portions. I recall Jurowski’s recording of the symphony, itself, getting very positive reviews. Based on his performance here, I look forward to hearing that recording with the London Philharmonic on the LPO label. The engineers have captured the sound well both in terms of clarity and warmth.

There is much greater competition in the Wayfarer Songs. While Sarah Connolly sings them very well and enunciates the texts really clearly, I’m not sure she has the right sort of voice for them. I find her just a little too bright, too soprano-ish. My yardstick for these songs has always been Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, either with Furtwängler (EMI) or later with Kubelik (DG). To me, the songs suit the baritone voice better than the mezzo. If you want them sung by a female, then my preference is Janet Baker with Barbirolli (EMI), whose darker voice is particularly suited to the Kindertoten lieder and Rückertlieder on the same disc. That said, Connolly should please those who prefer her type of voice, and Jurowski’s accompaniment is fine.

 Stephen Johnson provides very good notes on the works and the booklet lists all the orchestra members. If only the disc contained more music, I could have welcomed it. It would have been useful also to include the Blumine movement that Mahler discarded from his First Symphony and one of the other song cycles, for example.

Musicweb International, Leslie Wright

January 2013

Don’t be misled by the CD’s short duration into thinking you’re getting less than the full measure of live music-making: Vladimir Jurowski brings Mahler’s tragic worlds – both cosmic and human – alive with incomparable vividness. It would be hard to better his LPO account of the full Resurrection Symphony (reviewed August 2011). But Jurowski reverts to Mahler’s earliest draft of the first movement, Totenfeier, which brings a different kind of edge to the funeral rites. That’s instantly apparent from the outset – in the furious string tremolos and the woodwind ‘s bite – though a

softer effect is achieved in the brief idyll that launches the development. It’s only then that you begin to hear Mahler’s truly unorthodox way of unleashing fire and brimstone; elsewhere, you’ll notice how he later revised his orchestration, highlighted in this recording by its exemplary clarity of textures.

Detail leaps out in the fine balance of the Wayfarer Songs, too. Sarah Connolly holds her own against the orchestra’s briefly raised voice here. She begins almost as earthily as the peasant band playing at the wedding of the lost sweetheart, but finds all the introspection Mahler could wish for as bright morning ebbs away in the second song. Sweet oblivion beckons at the end. 


BBC Music Magazine, David Nice

November 2012

If you know Mahler’s Second Symphony, you know his earlier symphonic poem Totenfeier. Well, not quite. Totenfeier, with its orchestration beefed up and with different handling of key moments, became the first movement of the symphony. 

Vladimir Jurowski’s brisk and thrusting account with the period instrument players of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment makes a strong case for the composer’s original thoughts. Mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly’s performance of the slightly earlier Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is equally unaffected. However, pace period performance, her adjustment to the vocal style of the late 19th century is minimal.


Irish Times, Michael Dervan

December 2012
Mahler, to put it mildly, is not an obvious follow-up for an ensemble still fresh from recording Monteverdi. Nor is this approach for all tastes. Gone are many tone colours and lush sonorities. Tempi, too, tend to push forwards, leaving little room for the music to expand. But as the OAE show in their reading of Totenfeier (‘Funeral Rites’), Mahler’s initial excursion into orchestral writing that was later incorporated substantially into his Second Symphony, even a composer this familiar can bear further enlightenment. 
Paired with Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’), this music makes a fine composer snapshot. In response to recent recordings placing Mahler as a symphonic descendant of Brahms and song-writing successor to Schumann, the real figure looming here is Schubert. As a result, the Lieder remain wonderfully transparent, though mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly matches the orchestra’s single-mindedness almost to a fault. While Connolly’s dark vocal hues fully convey Mahler’s melancholy, her singing offers few of the glimpses of joy that ultimately makes the music seem far more tragic.
Beyond that, however, the OAE provide something all too rare in the Mahler catalogue. One can quibble over musical details, period ‘authenticity’ in the instruments or even the disc’s length – I usually find it hard to recommend any CD clocking in at under 40 minutes – but this is a recognisable portrait of Mahler as a young man, rather than an elder composer of 10 symphonies looking backwards. And for that reason alone, it deserves a place on the shelf.


Gramophone, Ken Smith

November 2012

To hear the Mahler on this recording played by period instruments is an engrossing experience. This disc opens with one of his first orchestral works, the symphonic poem Totenfeier (‘Funeral Rites’) finished in 1888 and later reworked and revised as the first movement of the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. Vladimir Jurowski takes quite a brisk main tempo, with exciting results, helped by the transparency and the untamed vigour with which the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment plays. The sound of even so vast an array of period instruments in full cry is slimmer than a modern orchestra, but it has a clarity and visceral impact in this live recording that is startlingly effective (the brass may not have the massive power of modern instruments, but it has plenty of character and edge), and instruments such as the harp emerge with striking clarity. Jurowski is flexible later in the movement – allowing the second theme lots of time to emerge – and his conducting is an intoxicating combination of attention to detail and a fine sense of the work’s broader architecture. Apart from the occasionally sour woodwind note, this live performance is very assured technically too. The differences between Totenfeier and its celebrated reincarnation are fascinating, including a few bars that were cut or completely rewritten, and this is as fresh and invigorating a performance as could be wished for, and thanks to the sonority of the period instruments it is also a genuinely illuminating one. 

Sara Connolly is the mezzo-soprano soloist in the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and she’s very fine indeed, sailing effortlessly into her upper register but always with a rich and creamy sound. The smaller orchestral forces employed in this cycle are beautifully controlled by Jurowski and there’s some particularly characterful woodwind playing from the OAE. As with Totenfeier, this performance is something of a revelation, not least in the way it allows us to hear so much of the forensic care with which Mahler wrote for orchestra without ever becoming dry or analytical. Connolly is wonderfully eloquent but never excessive, scaling her voice to the sound of the orchestra, and Jurowski is an immensely sensitive and supple partner. This is a really lovely performance.

The recorded sound from the Festival Hall is natural and well balanced, and Stephen Johnson’s notes give a useful account of both works, though there would surely have been scope in the booklet for another essay exploring the difference using old instruments can make to the performance of this music. The playing time is short, but this is reflected in the special price, and I hope it won’t deter any prospective buyers. This is a disc that captivated me, and it’s one I would strongly recommend to any Mahlerian with a sense of adventure. 

International Record Review, Nigel Simeone

November 2012

In 1888, while he was in the process of completing his First Symphony, Mahler drafted a symphonic poem that he called Totenfeier (Funeral Rites). Though it was originally intended as a self-contained work, he debated for five years whether to extend it into a full-scale symphony, before taking the plunge, revising what he had already written and transforming it into the first movement of what would be his Second Symphony, the monumental Resurrection. Yet in its original form, as Vladimir Jurowski’s gripping performance (from a Royal Festival Hall concert last year) shows, it’s already a fearsomely original conception, without the sheer muscle of the final version perhaps, but still unlike anything in the orchestral repertory at that time. The OAE’s period instruments emphasise its rawness, just as they point up the anguished detail of the accompaniments to the Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, in which mezzo Sarah Connolly allows the words and Mahler’s treatment of them to speak for themselves, without unnecessary gilding. With just 38 minutes of music the disc is short measure, but it is available at mid-price.


The Guardian, Andrew Clements

November 2012


Perhaps playing Mahler on period instruments is one of the few ways in which this overexposed music can be made to sound fresh. Decently performed Mahler symphonies can be sensational, life-changing events. Dull interpretations are invariably tortuous. Herreweghe’s recent period-instrument Fourth Symphony was a mixed success, but this live OAE disc is incredibly engaging; a modestly proportioned Mahler anthology which leaves you actively wanting to hear more instead of searching for the aspirin. Totenfeier began life as a one-off symphonic poem, 22 minutes of funereal screeches and grunts, soon recycled in slightly modified form as the opening movement of the Resurrection Symphony. The more modest original scoring makes the music sound punchier, edgier. Jurowski’s wonderful orchestra play like angels, the narrow-bore brass incredibly present but never strident. Jurowski also understands the Mahler idiom, with elegant, restrained string portamenti in the work’s reflective moments. Magical.

And so is Sarah Connolly’s vocal in the Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen, her voice perfectly attuned to the colours made by the OAE’s winds. Mahler’s typically violent mood shifts are already present in this early song cycle; I’m always knocked sideways by the abrupt opening roar of the third song. It shocks more than ever here. This CD has a short playing time but it’s sold at budget price. I’d rather have 38 minutes of delight than 79 minutes of tedium. Nicely recorded too.



The Arts Desk, Graham Rickson

  1. Totenfeier – Gustav Mahler – 22.32
  2. Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen: Wenn mein Schatz – Gustav Mahler – 3.38
  3. Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen: Gieng Heut’ – Gustav Mahler – 3.47
  4. Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen: Ich Hab’ – Gustav Mahler – 3.08
  5. Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen: Die zwei Augen – Gustav Mahler – 5.11