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Gustav MAHLER (1860–1911) Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
Giacomo MANZONI (b.1932) Dedica
Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Emilia-Romagna "Arturo Toscanini"/Günter Neuhold
Recorded live at Teatro Regio, Parma, 1986
WARNER FONIT 5050467-1204-2-6 [69:39 + 21:26]

I popped this disk into my player for a listen without first looking at the liner notes and was surprised to find that it was a live recording. Mahler Symphony No. 5, live? Why would there be a need for a live recording of a Mahler Symphony by an orchestra in Italy that includes in its title "Arturo Toscanini"? It was recorded in 1986, along with a work by Giacomo Manzoni, and therein may lie the answer. It appears to be a package deal for distribution. Both works were recorded at the same time, on the same program.

We don’t necessarily need more recordings of Mahler Symphonies unless there’s a specific hook, such as an A-class orchestra, a celebrity conductor, or an urtext-faithful rendering. There’s nothing like that here. And, unfortunately, the program notes lend no clue as to the reason for this recording’s release, nor why it is being released eighteen years after its live performance recording. One must conclude then that the Manzoni is what Warner, the releasing label, was after.

Having said that, the Mahler, is presented in an honest, sincere, and straightforward way, neither riveting nor indifferent. Recorded in Parma’s Teatro Regio, one would have hoped for a more up-front sound. However, this was 1986. Although many listeners may argue they still prefer an LP to a CD, the ability to record live concerts well and to overcome obstacles inherent in live performances has improved greatly in the last few years. And perhaps the reason this Mahler recording wasn’t released in 1986 was that there was too much competition from first-rate orchestra recordings of Mahler everywhere one looked. Mahler was still hot and new to many listeners back then. What does come across in this recording is the earnestness of the players, and of the conductor, to do a good job. There is something to be said for live performance recordings over studio recordings. The less cutting and pasting, the more alive and spontaneous a performer, or performers, has the potential of sounding. One only has one or two chances to get it right. It is a pity that there is no information included about the orchestra, or the conductor, Günter Neuhold.

Dedica, by Giacomo Manzoni, is a work with instrumentation similar to the Mahler, with the addition of solo singers and a chorus. A one-movement work, this was presented at the time of recording as a world premiere. The program notes are by Luigi Pestalozza in Italian, and although there is a translation in English it is an awkward one and so is distracting when attempting to read for content. The piece is a dedication to the late conductor Bruno Maderna with, according to the notes, a concerted effort at playing on the letters of Maderna’s name in composing the music. The sung text is taken from Maderna’s own words on the day of his death in Darmstadt in 1973 plus those of Tao-Te-Ching.

The music at best sounds like Respighi run amok. It is clear from the idiom of this work that Manzoni is akin to Berio and Dallapiccola. Mostly, though, Dedica sounds dated. And without a more global presentation via the CD notes, which are a bit dry and lacking in information about the composer’s life, who he studied with, or what, if any, his relationship to Maderna was, it is difficult to understand the reason we are only now seeing this recording on the market. With nearly three and-a-half pages devoted to Dedica and Manzoni, and a mere two given over to Mahler, there’s a less-than-subtle push towards favoring Manzoni. But whatever the reason for the pairing of these two composers, I’m afraid Mahler is still the winner.

Chase Pamela Morrison

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