Originally announced as Das Lied von der Erde, a late change of repertoire (triggered perhaps by the coincident programming of that work by Dame Sarah Connolly et al at the Royal Festival Hall the same evening) gave this recital wings. It seemed disingenuous of Temple Music to tag it as a Remembrance event for on paper it was nothing of the kind; rather, Alice Coote, Stuart Jackson and pianist Julius Drake probed the audience’s collective soul with the depth of their performances – and that was enough.

Stuart Jackson
© Gerard Collett

If Jackson felt cheated of the chance to perform Das Lied in tandem with one of its most distinguished interpreters, his heroic account of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was a heck of a substitution. The green young tenor of old has matured into a commanding figure of poise and presence, and Mahler’s plangent emotions chimed sublimely with his forthright, shining timbre. I’ve rarely heard such explicit madness as that Jackson found in Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer where his cries of “O weh!” were the stuff of gothic opera, nor as subtle a head voice as the one he employed to aching effect at “Vom allerliebstein Platz” in the final song. 

Julius Drake did so much more than accompany: he led the way as his piano empathised, emphasised and characterised song after song. In Jackson’s excerpts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn he lent progression to the Sentinel’s amblings (Der Schildwache Nachtlied) and provided soldiers for the battlefield (Revelge). In Coote’s exquisite traversal of the Rückert Lieder he lent a perfume to the opening number redolent of Ravel’s Asie and built towards grandiloquence before subsiding into prayer in the majestic Um Mitternacht.

Julius Drake
© Marco Borggreve

Coote herself dug deep into the self-pitying bitterness of the latter song, a small epic that surely ranks among Mahler’s most powerful utterances. Desolation never left her voice and all hope drained away. Yet this was a performance of all the colours in which the cycle became a world in miniature. The mezzo-soprano’s interpretative authority and musical intelligence were extraordinary in songs that she and Drake have shared in performance for two decades.

Alice Coote
© Jiyang Chen

The originally-projected Das Lied survived in the form of Der Abschied – a considerable vestige! – and throughout its heavenly length time hung suspended. The orchestra was barely missed even though Drake was hard put to render the lush sensuality of his solo interlude. He and Coote had avoided the sense of a bleeding chunk by opening it via a felicitous segue from Jackson’s Revelge, and an eerie sense of post-battle calm gave the bucolic dreamscape a scent of Strange Meeting from Britten’s War Requiem – a subtext that held throughout until the evanescence of “Ewig…” half an hour later. Perhaps that Remembrance tag wasn’t so glib after all.

*****