CD Review- Classical Source on Orchestra of the Swan: Song of the Earth

A new review at the Classical Source from Peter Reed of the new Orchestra of the Swan recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen on Somm. Read the whole thing here. A short sample follows:


…The three singers are superb. In the Wayfarer songs, the baritone (with a strong bass element) David Stout is right inside their emotional range – their sense of loss, resignation and lost innocence – and while you’re aware of his voice’s potential in terms of size, he keeps it to the scale of the ensemble. He also produces a very seductive sound – warm, velvety, full of nuance and colour – and the descents into impenetrable blackness capture the poor traveller’s experience of romantic despair with extraordinary conviction. Woods’s tempos are spot on, with Stout deftly controlling the changes of mood and handling Mahler’s irregular phrasing with great subtlety. In the third song, ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’, his high-voice singing is magical, and the close of the last setting is wonderfully distracted. I was hugely impressed by him, by his restraint and musicality as much by the quality, or rather qualities, and total security of his voice. Woods’s conducting is full of absorbing detail and gives Schoenberg’s reduction a gripping intensity and immediacy. Schoenberg’s scoring for the harmonium is particularly telling – its sound so atmospheric and so contemporary – a long way from the out-of-tune wheezing of those Victorian instruments you squeeze with your feet that are still in use today in some churches.

That aside, the instrumental playing, in both works, is very fine, and it’s a shame that the names of the players aren’t listed in the booklet (the texts are included though)[ed. note- you can see the listing of the players here]  – there are some heart-breaking violin solos and some stylish, expressive playing from oboist and clarinetist. The chamber version also exposes Mahler’s use of oriental modes to expressionist effect.

Emotionally, this performance of Das Lied also presses the right buttons in terms of wisdom, wonder, resignation and regret – it never ceases to amaze how Mahler’s response to the Chinese poems folds in such a complex range of feeling. Brennen Guillory barges his way deliriously through the two drinking songs and is heart-stopping in the visionary ‘Von der Jugend’, a really telling reminder from the old of the wonder of youth and how it’s wasted on the young. Guillory’s vocal range, control and power are quite something. Emma Curtis’s full, voluptuous contralto suits the instrumental timbre brilliantly. Occasionally her vibrato is a bit too close, but in her higher register there’s a Straussian strength and radiance to her singing, beautifully regulated and desolate in ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’ and piercingly ecstatic in ‘Der Abschied’. Obviously in this last movement you don’t get Mahler’s huge orchestral perspectives – although the long instrumental-only passage works extremely well – but the way in which singers, players and conductor connect with the music is remarkable and very moving. Highly recommended.


Purchase here from Presto Classical 

Purchase here direct from Somm Recordings

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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