The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, led by Yoel Levi, has continued to receive critical acclaim for its readings of the Mahler Fifth and Sixth Symphonies on Telarc. For this recording of the Fourth, Levi and the ASO are joined by renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who also performs the poignant Songs of a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gelsellen).
Songs of a Wayfarer was Mahler's first unified song cycle, and was written when the composer was in the throes of an unhappy love affair with the soprano Johanna Richter. Although the first song of the set was based on a Wunderhorn poem, Mahler himself wrote the poetry for the entire cycle.
Set for either piano or orchestral accompaniment, the songs tell of a young Gesell (craftsman) who, rejected by his lover, wanders about the world alternately expressing delight in the beauties of nature and despair over his lost love. Ultimately, the poor fellow commits suicide.
Interweaving all of Mahler's first four symphonies were his songs set to the collection of German folk poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). Musically, both the Third and Fourth symphonies draw upon the song "Das himmlische Leben" (The Heavenly Life), which Mahler composed in 1892.