Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mahler's arrangement of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" for string orchestra has become surprisingly popular in the past few years both on disc and in the concert hall. Not surprisingly, it is a refined, respectful transcription that makes great demands on the performers. The first violins, for example, are asked to play some extremely difficult passages in the second-movement variations. Still, while it can be exciting when played well, the orchestral version is ultimately not as effective as the original; the drama and tension of this quartet are definitely enhanced by the starker, leaner sound of four solo string instruments. This new version by conductor Christoph Poppen is specifically designed for a small string orchestra. Poppen writes that his goal was "to set free the power of the music's orchestral aspects, without endangering the fragility of the intimate, chamber musical moments." To a great extent, he has succeeded, especially in the slow movement and the finale, where extensive use of concertato alternations of solos and tutti is very effective. Still, even this arrangement for a small group of strings lacks the kind of interaction that may be possible only with four solo musicians who know the work and each other very well. The two short vocal works are attractive bonuses. The Salve Regina for soprano, strings, and organ is pretty but neither particularly memorable nor typical of the composer. But the Offertorium, which adds a clarinet to the same forces, is from the first notes of the captivating opening tune clearly the work of Schubert. The performances are very good, especially in the quartet, where the Munich strings play with skill and enthusiasm. They are also helped by a recorded sound that is clear and warm.
-- Richard Burke, Fanfare