The last thing I ever expected to run across, much less enjoy, was a version of Das Lied von der Erde stripped of Mahler's magnificent orchestration. But one listens when art speaks, and the pianist here, Markus Vorzellner, has thoroughly mastered this score, and the two-stave reduction of such an intricate score turns out to be quite compelling. This performance doesn't sound like a rehearsal run-through. It's totally involving and poetic. I hope this pianist makes many more recordings.
As for the singers, both are just as passionately involved. Tenor Bernhard Berchthold throws himself into the daunting first song with real courage, singing out as heroically as if he were backed by an orchestra. He has a lean rather than a plush voice, but his attention to the words made me realize how crucial they are, and now we can hear every syllable. Mezzo Hermine Haselbock comes off at first as lacking inwardness, and her intonation can get a little queasy. But she, too, sings the words with personal conviction. She isn't the dramatic equal of her tenor counterpart, unfortunately.
In the end, there are enough shortcomings to keep this from being an essential Mahler recording, and I doubt that the feat will be attempted again any time soon. But without being a revelation, this version is an eye-opener.