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Wanderer - Prégardien

Wanderer - Prégardien

Challenge Classics  CC 72518

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Schumann (arr Reissenberger): Lieder für Tenor & Kammerensemble; Bunte Blätter (Ausz.) in der Bearbeitung für Klavier & Kammerensemble
Killmayer: Lieder für Tenor & Kammerensemble
Mahler (arr Schönberg): Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
+Schumann (arr Reissenberger): 4 Stücke aus Waldszenen op. 82 für Kammerensemble

Christoph Prégardien
Ensemble Kontraste


Not even our contemporary inclination towards ‘authenticity’ and ‘loyalty to the composer’s intentions’ has been able to stop the trend of adapting scores for a different instrumentation than what the composer originally had in mind. The rapidly growing number of smallish ensembles with combinations of instruments for which very little music is available has even proved to be an added incentive in this direction, leading towards a new development within classical music. Not infrequently, a particular interest is shown in lieder which were originally written for solo voice with piano accompaniment. Sometimes the composers themselves put a small instrumental ensemble or even a complete symphony orchestra in the place of the original piano part, but it is not unusual for others to undertake this task.

One of the composers who adapted a piano score for a complete orchestra was Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), and the orchestration for his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer, written in 1883-1885) followed the piano version so quickly that the very first performance in 1886 immediately featured the orchestra. In 1920, Arnold Schoenberg created a new version for flute, clarinet, harmonium, piano, string quintet and percussion, and this instrumentation was taken by the ensemble KONTRASTE as the starting point for a project called Wanderer, in collaboration with the tenor Christoph Prégardien. It revolves around Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen as well as sixteen lieder by Robert Schumann, which were arranged for this project by Marcus Reiβenberger. The idea was to retain the liveliness heard in the piano accompaniment while at the same time creating an instrumental colour palette that far surpassed it. A sort of intermezzo is formed by four lieder by contemporary composer Wilhelm Killmayer, who wrote his own instrumentation to fit in with the idiom used in the lieder of Mahler and Schumann. (from the liner notes written by Paul Korenhof)

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Review by Mark Werlin - November 22, 2015

An intriguing performance of 19th and 20th-century Romantic lieder filtered through the critical lens of the Second Vienna School.

In 2010, tenor Christoph Prégardien and the Ensemble Kontraste developed a concert program for vocalist and instrumental ensemble, based around Arnold Schoenberg’s 1920 chamber version of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer. Originally presented at a concert of the Society for Private Musical Performances (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen) in Vienna, Schoenberg’s scaled-down arrangement for flute, clarinet, string quintet, harmonium, piano and percussion provided the Verein members with an opportunity to debate Mahler’s compositional technique in the company of fellow musicians.

Schoenberg’s analytic approach to the songs encourages witnessing the Wayfarer’s outbursts of despair with a touch of professional detachment – we are, after all, in Freud’s Vienna. Accordingly, Prégardien peels back the suffering of the embittered protagonist to reveal the narcissism of his self-inflicted misery. The cathartic “Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer” (I have a glowing knife in my breast) is accompanied by harsh down-bowing and pounding piano chords, dying away to the flute and tinkling bells that symbolize the voice and laughter of the Wayfarer’s lost love. The passage could easily descend into bathos, but Prégardien and the disciplined players of Ensemble Kontraste follow a line that avoids irony and unnecessary sentimentality. On balance, it’s a compelling interpretation that emphasizes the movement of Mahler’s musical language in the direction of modernity.

The longest work in the program was drawn from songs of Robert Schumann, including “Liederkreis” and “Waldzenen”. This new cycle of 12 lieder and 4 instrumental arrangements was prepared for Ensemble Kontraste by the contemporary German composer Marcus Maria Reißenberger. In the liner notes, Reißenberger describes the challenge of transcribing piano parts to strings and woodwinds and his struggle to link diverse lieder under a broad theme, the “Wanderer” of the recording’s title.

Rewriting – and reimagining – well-loved works is an endeavor fraught with peril (the arranger may well imagine howls of “Inauthentic!” from Schumann purists with their glühende Messers drawn). Reißenberger succeeds very well in translating piano parts to the mixed ensemble, partly through focusing on smaller groupings of the instruments. The delicate melody that introduces “Mondnacht” from Liederkreis is performed first by piano alone; then, as the singer evokes the subtle sounds of night, the piano is underscored by sustained notes on the harmonium and shimmering strings. The selection of songs flows smoothly, and while it may not please lieder traditionalists, it offers non-specialist listeners an alternative avenue to the music that can stand on its own merits.

One of the composers of the post-war generation who took up the challenge of writing for vocalist and Verein-sized chamber ensemble is Wilhelm Killmayer. Hölderin-Lieder II, based on texts of Friedrich Hölderin and part of a longer song cycle that was first performed in 1987, reveals a deep affinity to the transitional Romantic/Modern era. The four lieder included in this program exemplify a tonal approach that is far from moribund or cliché. From the long-line development and unexpected modulations of “In lieblicher Bläue” to the chilling, silence-punctuated minimalism of the single-line verse “…wie Wolken um die Zeiten legt…”, the composer draws connections from the late-Romantic period to contemporary developments in composition.

Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium, proves an ideal recording venue for the project. Engineer Bert van der Wolf recreates the intimate atmosphere – and Prégardien and Ensemble Kontraste the excitement – of Schoenberg’s Verein concerts. Raise a glass of Schnapps to this worthy endeavor.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net

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