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Gustav MAHLER (1869-1911), arr. Rainer RIEHN
Kindertotenlieder [26:03]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) arr. Jan MAEGAARD

Fünf Gedichte von Mathilde Wesendonk [19:44]
Marianne Rørholm, mezzo-soprano
Randers Chamber Orchestra/David Riddell
Recorded at Værke, Randers on 9 April and 4 June, 2000 DDD
CLASSICO CLASSCD 430 [45:47]


Works of gravity and loss are not often popular in any era. It is always easier to bring an audience a sense of happiness through positive escapism than it is to ask them to want to share in the pain of the world around them, no matter how much more true that world may seem. When a composer is able to move an audience so much with the tragic beauty found in his words and music that they are truly touched, it must be considered an accomplishment. These two works must be considered among the greatest of their genre, as they accomplish their goal of leaving the audience with a sense of loss while not driving them away; rather engaging them to experience sadness and loss deeply but not dishearteningly.

The first of these two works presented is Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, or "Songs for Dead Children" in which the texts all deal with a parent’s loss of a child. It is a fragile, mournful, and demanding collection of music which requires a certain singer in order to be properly expressed and engaged. The work is normally performed in its symphonic realization which has a plethora of sundry additional instruments, including 2 flutes, 4 double-reeds, 5 clarinets of varying ranges, 2 bassoons, harp, 2 horns in F, glockenspiel, and timpani in addition to the normal full orchestra. Then in the symphonic version Mahler adds further instrumentation to the final movement of the cycle. He wrote one other version, piano and voice. In this rendition, however, Rainer Riehn attempts to mitigate between the bombast of the fully symphonic realization and the piano work for a small ensemble of piano, harmonium, string quartet, flute, and clarinet, much as would have been heard in chamber circles between Mahler’s death and the 1960s. This was frequently done by Arnold Schönberg and his "Society for Private Musical Performances", which would transfer the works of the late romantic era to chamber groups so that they could continue to be enjoyed even in a post-war Europe. Riehn’s arranging is adequate to the cause, and does a fine job of approximating the larger ensemble, although it does lack something of the drama of the full work. Even so, it does a fine job of recreating the intimacy of the piano arrangement without totally losing the lush timbres for which Mahler is so known.

The second work here, Wagner’s Fünf Gedichte von Mathilde Wesendonk, more commonly known as Wesendonk Lieder, is named after Mathilde Wesendonk, the wife of one of Mahler’s patrons with whom Mahler fell in love. The love was destined for failure, as both he and she were already married. Additionally Mahler could not have survived financially without her husband’s financial support. The music reflects the words of love that she had penned in a tragic melancholy suggesting the impossible situation, as he did so brilliantly in his opera and "musikdrama". The original work was composed for voice and piano, but here was arranged for chamber ensemble based again on the work of Arnold Schönberg and his "Society for Private Musical Performances" and completed here by Schönberg expert Jan Maegaard.

Marianne Rørholm’s dark mezzo-soprano is very well suited to the drama and tragedy of star-crossed love or children lost, and the ensemble very good at evoking the darkness of these songs. The renditions are quite moving and beautiful, and the musicians well suited to the challenge undertaken.

The person who tends to purchase music from the Romantic era for the expressed use of playing at dinner parties or for non-offensive background music would not be advised to purchase this album. This is a very somber recording, and attention-grabbing. It has the potential to deeply move the listener, and the recording encourages active listening. It is deeply evocative of a particularly introspective or melancholy mood. However, for the listeners who seek emotional depth and reflected reality of greater truth in their music, this album can be touching and beautiful all at once.

Patrick Gary



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