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SACD Review

Mahler Arrangements

  • Franz Schubert: String Quintet in D minor "Death and the Maiden", D. 810
    (arr. For String Orchestra by Gustav Mahler)
  • Gustav Mahler: "Adagietto" for Symphony #5
Kiev Chamber Orchestra/Roman Kofmann
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG6011315-2 Hybrid Multichannel SACD 56m
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When dealing with Mahler's career, we must never forget that it had two faces, one of the composer, the other of the arranger and conductor and this CD concentrates more on the latter than the former. During his conducting forays, Mahler sometimes altered the published texts of works by such composers as Beethoven and Bruckner, and although this was done in good faith, he very often found himself under fire from critics and audiences alike.

Mahler also contended that chamber music could only be enjoyed by the players, especially when it was performed in large concert halls. In such vast spaces, chamber pieces were prone to lose their intimacy and their power with which the composer intended to communicate with his listeners. He therefore embarked on a series of arrangements for String Orchestra in an attempt to present the String Quartet medium to a wider audience.

One such project was Schubert's D810 which Mahler attempted in 1894. Never completing the arrangement of the whole work, all that has come down to us is a score of the quartet marked with several notes in dynamics, articulation and instrumentation. Although Mahler's idea is rather puzzling, this particular arrangement can claim to have a certain degree of historical legitimacy as when Schubert was composing this work, his ultimate objective was that of working himself up to the large symphonic form.

All said, I was completely bowled over by this Mahlerian vision of Schubert and my esteem and reverence for D810 has been enhanced no end. The Kiev Chamber Orchestra and Roman Kofman perform with an admirable sense of discovery and loyalty to both composers and the end result is convincing indeed. Maybe not up to everybody's expectations, but a disc worth investigating, if you are not a purist, that is!

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech