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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 (arr. Erwin Stein) [53:43]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
(arr. Bruno Sachs) [10:39]
Sónia Grané (soprano)
Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 16-18 February 2012
no text included
LINN CKD438 [64:38]

The Society for Private Musical Performances was set up in 1918 in Vienna by Arnold Schoenberg for reasons both idealistic and extremely practical. Its essential aim was to provide the opportunity to hear new music under conditions which would ensure that performances were properly rehearsed and where those who might be hostile in advance to the music - including critics - would be excluded. Given the Society’s small size and budget works for orchestra were presented in keyboard arrangements or re-scored for a smaller ensemble. This disc presents two works in the latter form.
 
The Mahler Symphony was scored by the composer for an orchestra which excludes trombones but includes triple woodwind (but four flutes). Although it had been performed in Vienna soon after its composition in 1900 by 1921 difficult economic circumstances meant that opportunities to hear live performances were likely to be rare. Erwin Stein, one of Schoenberg’s composition pupils, produced an arrangement for fourteen instruments. This has been lost but a copy of the original score annotated by Stein to make the reduction has been used by Alexander Platt to produce a reconstruction. The result is necessarily much leaner than Mahler’s original, but this has the advantage of clearer textures and subsidiary lines that are much easier to follow. At times it sounds reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 and even more of Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Elsewhere there is a distinct echo of salon orchestras - Marek Weber comes often to mind. Overall, hearing it is a fascinating experience which adds much to one’s understanding of the original work.
 
There is nothing new in conductors best known in classical and pre-classical music moving on to later works. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Sir Roger Norrington have all shown how their knowledge of earlier music together with imagination and musicianship can produce stunning and original results. Trevor Pinnock now joins that group with performances which make the most of the additional space around the notes which Stein’s arrangement provides. He follows Mahler’s very detailed directions in respect of phrasing and changes of speed with great care. Possibly too much, indeed. At times in the first movement some of those changes of speed seemed imposed rather than arising directly from the music itself as can be the case with good performances of the original version. Overall however this is a performance to treasure, crowned by a delightfully natural account of the soprano solo in the last movement by Sónia Grané.
 
The Debussy arrangement is here attributed to Bruno Sachs rather than Schoenberg, although the booklet remarks that the latter would have given careful advice to whoever was working on the score. Similar comments about its merits apply here as to the Mahler but with greater surprise. I had thought that the singular character of this work was to a large extent a result of the scoring, but its original character survives here even with the orchestra greatly reduced. As with the Mahler much of the success is due to the committed and characterful playing of the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble and to Trevor Pinnock’s care over balance and phrasing.
 
The clarity of the recording is remarkable, and Linn have provided admirable notes whilst regrettably omitting the text and a translation of the verses from Des Knaben Wunderhorn that form the last movement of the symphony. This is one of the most enlightening and enjoyable Mahler discs I have heard for a long time. The booklet hints at further discs exploring chamber arrangements of the symphonic repertoire. On the basis of this very successful disc that is a very exciting prospect.  

John Sheppard  

Masterwork Index: Mahler 4