There was a time when it was possible to speak of a singers as ‘Mahlerian’, meaning that he or she had been trained by someone steeped in the Mahler tradition. That’s no longer the case. Singers are generalists nowadays and Mahler is just another composer on the schedule.
So I thought it might be useful to put together a set of outstanding singers who knew Mahler in their bones and left a lasting record of their interpretations, each with their mentor in parentheses.
Christa Ludwig (Klemperer)
Jo Vincent (Mengelberg)
Richard Lewis (Berthold Goldschmidt)
Kathleen Ferrier (Walter)
Janet Baker (Klemperer)
Maureen Forrester (Walter)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Horenstein)
Kerstin Thorborg (Walter)
Brigitte Fassbaender (Kubelik)
Lisa della Casa
Stokowski with Mahler 8 soloists, March 1916
And the worst?
Eiko Kitazawa utterly derails the 1930 first recording of Mahler 4, conducted by Hidemaro Konoye.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was cast on recordings by her husband Walter Legge despite lacking any positive feeling for the composer. Her singing is glassy at best.
Placido Domingo attempted Das Lied von der Erde in studio several times. So far as I’m aware only one of these hopeless efforts was released, with Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Other tenors who self-destruct in Das Lied include Jon Vickers, Siegfried Jerusalem and, latterly, Jonas Kaufmann. Klaus König, who recorded with Tennstedt, is nowhere near adequate. Desi Halban, who recorded Mahler 4 and some songs with Bruno Walter, is an avowed amateur – worth hearing as the daughter of Mahler’s cast-member Selma Kurz but not in the league of real performers.