Mahler, Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (Hermann/Parsons)
Mahler songs, unlike the generality of lieder, express personality rather than poetry. Like Britten operas, they tend to be about the maltreatment of misfits. In serious moods they have a skinless vulnerability, all quivering flinch and pang; in more relaxed moments the music stretches out luxuriously, as if in a warm bath or bed. To exploit the whole range of these susceptibilities demands either the full orchestra or the complete accompanist - such as Geoffrey Parsons.
His technique is not only instrumental in creating scene and atmosphere (e.g. the drums and trumpets of Revelge) but also quasi-vocal in its eloquence. He knows how to give Mahler's melodies those expressive Schwarzkopfian inflections of wry humour (Um schlimme Kinder), bliss (Ich ging mit Lust) or dismay (Scheiden und Meiden). In short, one might well recommend buying this record for the accompaniments alone, if they were alone.
In Roland Hermann however, despite repeated hearings, I can detect little comparable sensitivity. He might excel in some of the more extraverted Loewe or Schubert; but in the music of vulnerability his vocal strength is his weakness. In particular his soldiers (Zu Strassburg; Revelge; Der Tambourgesell) sound better suited for promotion than emotion; they have the wrong kind of stripes.
The occasional good moments of tenderness or humour cannot redress this ubiquitous over-simplification. The singing dilutes what the playing has crystallized; and the music (like the listener) loses concentration.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1976 (p. 142) © the estate of eric sams