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Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Debussy: Prelude A L'apres-midi D'un Faune - Chamber Arrangements / Martingale Ensemble

Mahler / Debussy / Breiwick / Martingale Ensemble
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1373  
Composer:  Gustav MahlerClaude Debussy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Martingale Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER-STEIN Symphony No. 4. DEBUSSY-SACHS Prelude to the afternoon of a Faun Ken Selden, cond; Deanna Breiwick (sop); Martingale Ens MSR MS 1373 (63:35) Live: Portland, Oregon 1/7/2011

This remarkable CD represents the debut of a new ensemble; the recording was made at their first concert. The professionalism and polish of the performances belie both the age of the ensemble itself and of the individual instrumentalists, all young members of Read more various groups active in the Northwest. I haven’t heard a more promising premiere recording since the release of the debut concert of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under Claudio Abbado in 2002, which should give you a sense of the music contained herein. Conductor Ken Selden and his new band have produced a recording of startlingly impressive performances.

At a timing of 16:15, the first movement of the chamber Mahler Fourth is very brisk and refreshingly free of schmaltz while allowing for wistfulness and a few dark clouds, abetted by the excellent balance afforded the instrumentalists by the sound production. The double bass is especially effective as it provides ballast to what can sometimes seem an overly bright ensemble. The bass drum, too, is thunderous at the end of the development, just before the fanfare later used in the Fifth Symphony makes its appearance, another tellingly effective aspect of this arrangement (and of this recording).

There is exceptional bite to the scordatura solo violin, and the whole second movement dances with expressiveness and lilt; if “Friend Hein” is indeed on the scene, he is an irresistible partner. The G-Major theme of the third movement projects both warmth and yearning within a smoothly flowing tempo, while the E-Minor counter-theme is troubling and anguished; the “Heaven’s gate” music is suitably climactic.

Soprano Deanna Breiwick’s bright, clear voice, with its very quick vibrato and engaging manner, brings an expressiveness and character to the finale that is altogether engaging. Selden accompanies at a comfortable tempo and with sensitivity to the meaning of the song, providing a charming and very satisfying conclusion to a fine performance of the symphony, one which is fully able to stand up to comparison with the best recordings of the original orchestration. The sound production (for which Selden served as producer) is vivid, uncluttered, and intimate without being in any way clinical-sounding; the production also captured exceptional detailing and low-end definition, as previously noted. Also of inestimable value, there was an amazingly quiet audience present; too often, the presence of listeners is an unfortunate trade-off for the clarity and buzz of a concert recording.

With the conclusion of the Mahler, we travel from one kind of enchanted landscape to another, or out of the Vienna Woods into the ethereal Neverland of a classical Greece that never was. This arrangement of the Debussy Prelude is a showcase for the ensemble as a group of soloists. Primacy goes to the remarkable flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulsen, but the piano of Renato Fabio is as impressive and nearly as prominent in the arrangement as the flute. The string quintet of violinists Greg Emer and Adam Lamotte, violist Charles Noble, cellist Hamilton Cheifete, and bassist Jeffrey Johnson nobly substitutes for the entire orchestra string section.

This arrangement allows one to fully appreciate Debussy’s thematic invention, since the music is now stripped of its lush (if mostly transparent) orchestration. Yet the ingeniousness of Benno Sach’s version allows one to “hear” instruments that are no longer present.

Of the half-dozen or so recordings of this transcription of the Mahler Fourth, this new recording is the best-sounding and best-played version, hands down. I know of only one other recording of this arrangement of the Prelude (on an Eloquence CD featuring the Boston Symphony Chamber Players), so its inclusion on this disc makes for a very substantial bonus. Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Martingale Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria 
Notes: Arranged for chamber ensemble by Irwin Stein. 
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Martingale Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1892-1894; France 
Notes: Arranged for chamber ensemble by Benno Sach. 

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