Arnold Schoenberg's concerts at his Society for Private Musical Performances have gone down in the annals of history for their ground-breaking programmes. Amongst the many new works was this arrangement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony by a Schoenberg pupil, Erwin Stein. It is heard here in a reconstruction by Alexander Platt. The original instrumental parts have disappeared, so Platt used Stein's annotated full score.
It is a remarkable exercise, rather like hearing a vivid dream of Mahler 4 through the prism of Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony. Of course there is the added transparency; almost guaranteed, you will hear figuration you will have missed in the full version. The added emphasis on voice-leading means that one canRead more appreciate Mahler's expert skills anew.
The famous vocal finale emerges beautifully and naturally... Recommended. The recording is superb and it is difficult to believe this is a live performance, given the overall excellence of instrumental response. More than a curio, this Fourth has an appeal and an impact all of its own.
There have been several recordings of Erwin Stein’s reduction of the Mahler Fourth lately, almost outnumbering those of the standard version. Of the three I’ve reviewed previously, my preference is for the recording on Dorian performed by the Smithsonian Chamber Players under Kenneth Slowik with soloist Christine Brandes (28:5). That recording also includes a performance of Songs of a Wayfarer by Susan Platts.
Immediately audible is a sound production that is ingratiating, spacious yet clear, and neither too closely nor too distantly recorded. The instruments have a natural quality and roundedness that compensates admirably for the lack of heft and body that one ordinarily hears in the full orchestra, though I should note that the ensemble has surprising weight when the percussion makes its presence felt. Boyd’s tempos are on the moderate side, which is not to say deliberate: there is a natural flow to the first movement that allows the listener to concentrate on the clarity of line that Stein brought to Mahler’s score.
The spidery fiddle solo is perfectly realized in the second movement, and the intimate forces now take on a slightly sinister coloring. Stein’s ingenuity is again on display, as the piano substitutes for strings here and woodwinds there, filling out the texture and adding emphasis. The performers capture the nuances and mood-swings to perfection. There is, in addition, incisiveness to the performance that is admirable, considering the live recording situation (the audience is remarkably quiet).
The tempo of the Adagio is perfect for this reduced setting, where there is less resonance from the instruments—the timing is relatively quick at 20:48, but it doesn’t feel fast; one is simply aware of the regularity of the pulse. The darkening colors that come with the minor-mode passages are very convincing, lending gravitas to the spare orchestration. The “heavens’ gate” music benefits from the fidelity of the recording, especially the low piano notes and the percussion—this passage, in this reduction, can sound almost silly when there is too little weight to the sound (the Linos Ensemble recording on Capriccio is similarly convincing, as is the Dorian).
Kate Royal’s performance of Das himmlische Leben is animated but scaled to match the reduced instrumentation—she attains an appropriate intimacy in the final strophes dealing with heavenly music. One gets hints, however, of her operatic strength—she has sung Wagner under Sir Simon Rattle. Of the recordings of this version that employ female sopranos—the Novalis recording conducted by Howard Griffiths uses a boy soprano—I find Christine Brandes to be the most congenial, though Ms. Royal sings with as much character; of the two, Ms. Brandes has the lighter-toned voice.
This is a very fine performance of an alternate version of Mahler’s sunniest symphony that seems to have found a home in the (recorded) repertoire. The Dorian might edge it out because of the inclusion of the set of songs; I’d be hard-pressed to choose between them.