Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 Resurrection (1894) (arr. Heinrich von Bocklet for 2 pianos, 8 hands, 1914)
Piano 1: Brieley Cutting (primo), Angela Turner (secondo)
Piano 2: Stephen Emmerson (primo), Stewart Kelly (secondo)
rec. 2012, Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, Brisbane, Australia
MELBA MR301144 [78:00]
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of Heinrich von Bocklet's arrangement of Mahler's Second Symphony - published by Universal. This is a version for a double piano duet which followed an earlier four hands arrangement in 1895 and another one by Bruno Walter in 1899. This is the first commercially available recording of the von Brocklet version. The four pianists involved first performed the work together in 2011, recorded it in 2012, edited it over 2012/2013 and released it commercially in 2014.
It might be hard to think of a colossal orchestral and choral work such as Mahler's Resurrection being performed in this fashion but it does actually work pretty well. Obviously the range of timbre and sheer power of the symphony orchestra cannot be matched but when the music is stripped back in this way there is certainly a gain in terms of clarity. This is an interesting musical experience and an unusual addition to the Mahler discography.
After the initial shock of the opening bars of the first movement the ear adjusts and the music can be enjoyed in this new format in its own right. Indeed, there are gains in terms of clarity and intimacy. There isn't the overwhelming spectacle one is used to in Mahler's epic orchestration but the power of the two pianos can still be thrilling when the volume is turned up. I did miss those tam-tam strokes and the deep string lines though.
The Andante moderato is an undoubted success and one could easily be fooled into thinking that the music is best suited to the piano. The Scherzo is brilliantly played and has tremendous forward momentum. Yet again, the sheer brio and clarity draws the listener in. Mahler's music is presented under the glare of some very close spotlights here and it really glistens. The opening of the fifth movement is sensational but later on the absence of the hushed choral entry is a let-down because two pianos simply cannot even begin to compare. You don't experience the spine-tingling frisson of the original. This was the only passage where I felt completely cheated.
We then come to the Grosse appell ("The Great Call") where the off-stage brass perform their other-worldly fanfares. This has less emotional impact in the arrangement presented here mainly because the off-stage sound-world cannot be mimicked. The hushed choral entry that follows this passage is, yet again, sadly missed. It really is a veritable damp squib. However, the final two or three minutes of the symphony are tremendous and we are led to a fine climax and thrilling conclusion. The dedication and stamina of the players has to be admired and applauded.
Overall, this is a refreshing new approach to a great symphony that many lovers of Mahler would enjoy. The symphony, with its sonorities stripped away, still comes across with its epic quality fully intact despite some passing reservations here and there. The playing is superb from beginning to end and the sound quality is admirable. It's a triumph of clarity, ringing tone and a wide sound-stage. A brilliant CD.
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