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Mahler: Lieder Cycles arranged for Chamber Ensemble - Klaus Mertens

Mahler: Lieder Cycles arranged for Chamber Ensemble - Klaus Mertens

New Classical Adventure  60166

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Mahler: Kindertotenlieder, Fünf Rückertlieder, Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen

Klaus Mertens (bass-baritone)
Mutare Ensemble
Gerhard Müller-Hornbach (leader)

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 12, 2015

Of late, Mahler arrangements have led to lively debates on this site. Reference be made to Mahler: Symphony No. 9 - Gale of Klaus Simon’s transcription of Mahler 9, and Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Pinnock of Schoenberg’s pupil Erwin Stein’s arrangement of Mahler 4.

As 'Audiophile.no' rightly pointed out in his review of the chamber version of Mahler’s fourth symphony, Schoenberg and his pupils ‘minimized’ large orchestral works to chamber size for purely practical purposes, namely for being able to perform them at concerts of the ‘Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen’ (Society for Private Musical Performances) which could not afford the price of a full orchestra.

This has typically been the case for Mahler’s orchestral works. Schoenberg’s skills in this domain were (and still are) widely acknowledged. One of the best examples is his arrangement of Brahms’ first piano quartet for symphony orchestra.

In our time Mahler arrangements continue to take place, catering, among other things, for taste (small is beautiful) and opportunity (downsized orchestras) . It is interesting to see how arrangers have taken up the challenge to do so with varying degrees of success. One of them, the German pianist/conductor, Klaus Simon, arranged Mahler’s Symphonies No’s 1, 4 and 9 for Universal Edition/Wien from 2007 onwards.

Of the three song cycles on this disk, only one has been arranged by Schoenberg during Mahler’s lifetime (Lieder eines fahrenden Geselles) ; the other two ( Kindertotenlieder and Fünf Ruckert Lieder) are of recent date by Gerhard Müller-Hornbach, composer and artistic leader of the Mutare Ensemble. The result is remarkable. Of course, they cannot altogether be compared with the Schoenberg c.s. ‘reductions’ of the symphonies, since there are original scores for ‘Gesang und Klavier’. Mahler transcribed the ‘Songs of a Wayfarer’ for large scale orchestra three years after the first version for voice and piano (with some changes).

The Mutare Ensemble is a flexible group, able to venture into different kinds of music in a variable composition. Many earn their daily bread in orchestras in and around Frankfurt, but seem to find personal expression and fulfilment in the Mutare Ensemble. This is clearly reflected in their playing.

The question then is, do such arrangements keep the intrinsic musical content intact. Taste may differ, but I think that the answer here is ‘yes’. Not just in Schoenberg’s arrangement, but also as far as Gerhard Müller-Hornbach’s attempt is concerned. In these slimmed down versions a better insight in the structures can be observed and, in keeping with the ‘tradition’, a piano and harmonium is used to fill in details. The harmonium remaining in the background, the piano playing also parts of the original score for voice and piano

Klaus Mertens excels in all these songs ; a beautiful tone, able to shape tension, carrying the listener away in the tender moments, making you sit on the edge of your chair in the more expressive ones. But he (and/or the conductor) does not make life easy (Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht): the overall slower pace chosen (‘nicht zu schnell’ and often ‘schleppend’) puts much strain on keeping his voice stable. He does, however, succeed marvelously well.

Together with an excellent recording in collaboration with Deutschlandfunk ‘New Classical Aventure’ has given us a disk for a rewarding listening experience.

Addressing the overall question of Mahler arrangements, I see merit in them for modern variable size ensembles and, perhaps more important, enabling audiences in areas where no orchestras of the scale required by Mahler are available, to familiarize with the characteristic beauty of his music. At the end of the day, however, I would give preference to the dynamics, the thrill, the surprise and the emotional power of a total, large scale Mahler immersion.

Copyright © 2015 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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