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Gustav MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
Kindertotenlieder (Version for small orchestra by Reiner Riehn)
1. Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n! [5:09]
2. Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunk’le Flammen [4:41]
3. Wenn dein Mütterlein [4:38]
4. Oft denk’ ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen [2:36]
5. In diesem Wetter [6:26]
6. Quartettsatz [11:05]
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (version for small orchestra by Arnold Schönberg)
7. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht [3:59]
8. Ging heut’ Morgen übers Feld [4:08]
9. Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer [3:24]
10. Die zwei blauen Augen [5:30]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866 - 1924)
11. Berceuse élégiaque (version for small orchestra by Erwin Stein) [10:38]
Sara Mingardo (contralto) (1-5, 7-10)
Musici Aurei/Luigi Piovano
Grazia Raimondi (violin), Silvio Di Rocco (viola), Olaf Laneri (piano), Luigi Piovano (cello) (Quartettsatz)
rec. Teatro Fedele Fenaroli di Lanciano, Italy, July 2011
Sung texts with French and English translations enclosed
ELOQUENTIA EL 1233 [62:21]

Experience Classicsonline

It seems that there is a vogue for recording Mahler songs in reduced versions for chamber sized orchestra. Not long ago I wrote at some length about the background to these reductions when reviewing a disc with the Canadian singer Julie Boulianne (see review). Let me just briefly mention that it was Arnold Schönberg who was the initiator, since a private music society in Vienna, run by him and his associates, couldn’t afford hiring a full-size orchestra and thus they arranged the music for the instruments that were available. Schönberg himself made the arrangement of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, also used on the Boulianne disc. It was written for flute, clarinet, harmonium, piano, triangle, glockenspiel and string quintet. The arrangement of Kindertotenlieder is however of later date, made by Rainer Riehn in 1987 but employing the same forces. Interestingly the Boulianne disc has the cycle in an arrangement by Reinbert de Leeuw, made in 1991. de Leeuw is an authority on Schönberg, being the founder and long-time director of the Amsterdam Schönberg Ensemble. To complicate things further the arrangement of Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque for the present issue is attributed to Erwin Stein, though on de Leeuw’s recording, made some decades ago, it is by Schönberg. To my ears they sound identical and probably evidence has appeared that Schönberg was the promoter but asked his pupil Stein to write it.
Someone may ask what this Busoni composition is doing on a Mahler disc, but there is a simple explanation or rather two: One is that it belongs to the group of works that Schönberg and his friends wanted for their Music Society; the other is that Mahler conducted the premiere of the work at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic on 21 February 1911, his very last concert. Less than three months later he was dead. Berceuse élégiaque is a sombre piece, relatively static and only briefly rising to a forte. The piece was written in memory of his mother, who passed away on 3 October 1909. Busoni based it on a berceuse for piano that he had written earlier the same year. The composition was finished on 27 October but it was another sixteen months before it was finally premiered with the composer present, sharing the box with Arturo Toscanini, who greatly admired the music and later played it several times. Just as the Mahler songs do, the chamber version of this work also makes it sound frailer and more vulnerable.
The Quartettsatz is the only work from Mahler’s youth that has survived. It is also his only chamber music work, written in 1876 when he was sixteen. It was played twice that year with Mahler at the piano and after that forgotten, found again in the early 1960s and published in 1964. It is dark and often agitated, late romantic in style and I don’t think anyone hearing it for the first time would associate it with Mahler. He is said to have written other chamber music as well but nothing of this has been preserved, so it’s good to have this Quartettsatz.
Sara Mingardo’s dark and vibrant contralto is a pliant instrument and makes one think of singers like Kathleen Ferrier and Marilyn Horne, who also recorded this darkest of song-cycles. Since they, like most other singers on records, use the full orchestral version, they are no ideal comparisons. For that I would instead pick Julie Boulianne, and she is simply gorgeous. Hers is also a vibrant voice but it is slightly lighter in tone and she is even more nuanced than Mingardo. The latter, however, is particularly impressive in the inward reading of the last songIn diesem Wetter. Boulianne’s more youthful timbre suits the earlier cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen even better but Mingardo is again at her most deeply probing in the final song, Die zwei blauen Augen. Principally speaking I prefer a baritone in this cycle but I have wonderful female readings from the likes of Janet Baker and Frederica von Stade.
Making a choice between versions for chamber orchestra is further complicated due to the couplings. The instrumental music on Mingardo’s disc is valuable, but so are the five songs by Alma Mahler on Boulianne’s disc. I am happy to have both but have a feeling that I will return to Julie Boulianne more often - for the singing per se, but also for Alma’s songs and for a recording that is marginally fuller and with greater depth. As always with oft-recorded music it is almost impossible to make a clear-cut decision. Suffice to say that either of these two discs should satisfy those who are curious to hear these alternative versions.
Göran Forsling

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