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Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Debussy: Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune / Pinnock, Royal Academy of Music

Debussy / Royal Academy Of Music Ensemble
Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  Linn Records   Catalog #: 438   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude DebussyGustav Mahler
Conductor:  Trevor Pinnock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Symphony No. 41. DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune Trevor Pinnock, cond; 1Sonia Grane (sop); Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble LINN 438 (SACD: 64: 38)

This astonishing performance of Mahler and Debussy on 13 instruments starts out as something of a labeling puzzle. The spine of the CD lists only Mahler. The front cover tells us Read more that the Mahler is performed in a chamber arrangement by Schoenberg pupil Edward Stein, but makes no mention of the Debussy, which is actually the first work on the CD. Inside, we learn that the Prélude is in an arrangement by Benno Sachs, also a former student of Schoenberg. More importantly, we discover the “Why on earth?” of the enterprise … because Mahler for 13 musicians does make you wonder!

The two pieces here represent works programmed at The Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna between 1918 and 1921. The group was founded by Schoenberg (with backing from Alban Berg) to provide an opportunity for the best new music in an artistic haven, without interference from critics. Audiences did not know what they would hear until the concert itself—and applause was proscribed. The special feature of the society’s concerts (though born of financial necessity) was its presentation of chamber reductions carefully designed to resemble the original work.

As I heard the music on this CD, I couldn’t help thinking of the traveling furniture salesmen from a hundred years ago, who would bring along miniaturized samples of their wares for customers. Many transcriptions are designed to magnify the scope of a composition—think of Schoenberg’s enlargement of the Brahms G-Minor Piano Quartet—but the reworkings here attempt to make a large work smaller without in any way changing its character. The point of recording this CD, no doubt, is to show how successfully it can be done.

The Debussy transcription is so idiomatic, in fact, that a casual listener might be fooled for a while into thinking it was the usual presentation. It is a subtle and intelligent reduction, nicely performed by Pinnock. The Mahler Fourth Symphony also sounds remarkably like itself for huge stretches. Indeed, the performance reminds me of Fritz Reiner’s swift and airy traversal with the Chicago Symphony. But inevitably, without timpani, one begins to notice the reduced scale of things.

Transcriptions usually betray their origin in big climaxes, and it is no different here, but it is still impressive to note what a full sonority can be maintained with harmonium and piano. The big first movement and third movement climaxes convey remarkably the sort of full-orchestra chaos intended by the composer. A listener experiencing the music this way for the first time would definitely come away from the hall with a good understanding of the Mahler Fourth.

Although the tone of everything here is generally light, subtle and spring like, the CD is let down by Sonia Grane’s hopelessly unsteady and dry rendition of Mahler’s soprano part. The freshness of spring needs a facelift here. Fortunately, it is the freshness of approach which is the CD’s reason for existing.

FANFARE: Steven Kruger

Known primarily as a harpsichordist and conductor of Baroque and Classical repertoire, usually with the world's leading chamber orchestras, Trevor Pinnock is one of the last names one would connect to the massive post-Romantic symphonies of Gustav Mahler. Yet if Pinnock had to choose one, it would be the Symphony No. 4 in G major, the lightest and most Classically oriented of Mahler's works, and decidedly the best suited to his gifts. Even better would be the chamber ensemble version of the work by Erwin Stein, which offers the opportunity to engage the players close at hand. This performance with the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble is the first time Pinnock has recorded Mahler, and the reduced version undoubtedly makes sense, given his aptitude for directing small ensembles. The music is bright and cheerful, with only a few passing moods of sorrow or angst, so Pinnock doesn't have to make grand interpretive gestures that go beyond the Classical ideals of poise and restraint. Indeed, this version overflows with humor and gracefulness, and the musicians give it a charming run-through. Perhaps even more unexpected than the Mahler is the chamber version by Benno Sachs of Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which, like the Stein transcription, was arranged for Arnold Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances, and appears as filler on this album. Pinnock is sympathetic to the music, and its lushness is handled with great sensitivity and attention to detail. Another advantage of choosing chamber versions of these pieces is that the instruments are heard with absolute clarity and immediacy in the hybrid multichannel format, so both the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and the Symphony No. 4 have clear details and warm presence. While newcomers should definitely experience the full orchestral versions first, these alternative chamber arrangements are well worth hearing. Highly recommended. - AllMusic Guide


Historical performance pioneer, Trevor Pinnock, conducts the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble in revealing chamber arrangements of Mahler's most frequently performed symphony and Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, on its debut recording for Linn. - Linn Records

The SACD layer is both 5.1 channel and 2-channel. Studio Master: 192kHz / 24 bit. Read less

Works on This Recording

Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Trevor Pinnock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1892-1894; France 
Venue:  St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol UK 
Length: 10 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Notes: Chamber version arranged by Benno Sachs. 
Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Trevor Pinnock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol UK 
Length: 53 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Notes: Chamber version arranged by Erwin Stein. 

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