Friday 12 February 2016

For Mahler enthusiasts Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale’s world premiere recording of Bruno Walter’s 4 hands piano reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’ from Naxos will be a must

Back in March 2014 I reviewed a new recording by the late Gilbert Kaplan with the Wiener Kammerorchester of Rob Mathes’ arrangement for small orchestra of Gustav Mahler’s (1860-1911) Symphony No.2 in C minor ‘Resurrection.’ An initiative of the Kaplan Foundation, one of the leading institutions in Mahler research, Rob Mathes made the arrangement in order to provide an opportunity for chamber orchestras, small community orchestras and regional opera orchestras to perform this work.

Whilst bringing this work to smaller ensembles the recording of the arrangement was not universally welcomed in that it was hardly likely to replace the original version for which there are many fine recordings. I was rather more enthusiastic, enjoying the greater transparency that revealed aspects of Mahler’s creation sometimes missed.

Piano transcriptions of orchestral works were popular in the 19th century when, in the absence of recordings, not everyone could get to hear major works. One only has to think of Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies.

It was in 1898 that the great conductor and Mahler disciple, Bruno Walter (1876-1962) made his reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 for piano four hands. If anyone was going to undertake this task then there was surely no better choice. It is for Walter’s involvement, if nothing else, that a new recording of this reduction will surely be welcomed.

Pianists’, Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale, new recording of Bruno Walter’s piano four hands reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 for Naxos  is a world premiere.

Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale hold together the sometimes faltering musical line and slow tempo of the Allegro maestoso very well. As the movement progresses there are some fine, rhythmically sprung passages with this reduction highlighting many details. They bring some pretty volatile moments and, in some of the slow development sections, hold the attention surprisingly well, building to some moments of intense drama before an extremely effective coda. One, of course, remembers and misses so many orchestral aspects.  

These two pianists pick out many fine little details in the Andante moderato, displaying some terrific ensemble in the faster passages as well as a fine rubato. There are some beautifully shaped passages with crisp playing of great precision.

They bring a very fine rhythmic opening to In ruhig fließender Bewegung creating a fine forward flow, weaving some lovely musical lines, crisp and rhythmically sprung. The lyrical central section is quite beautifully done before they reach a fine climax from which the music falls away perfectly.

In the Urlicht: Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht we should, of course, have an alto voice. However, in this reduction there is much care to bring out the melancholy poetry of the original with some beautifully limpid, delicate passages, never overdoing the little surges of urgency.

But when we arrive at the Finale: Im Tempo des Scherzos there is a terrific surge of energy. Where the off-stage trumpet should sound, Maasa Nakazawa brings a suitably haunting feel. These players bring many fine moments that elucidate the detail, building a suitable tension. When we arrive at ‘O Glaube’ one obviously misses the voice and text which is so much of Mahler’s expressive vision and, of course, when the hushed choir should enter there is a natural loss of atmosphere, but these two fine pianists bring a real sense of drama and wonder, extracting some intense feeling as the music develops. They bring some fast buoyant passages where they provide a terrific rhythmic, forward bounding drive as well as some hauntingly hushed moments. The cry of a bird that appears part way has a particularly eerie quality before we are led funereally forward. Here Nakazawa and Athavale reveal a most poetic moment bringing a fine atmosphere. Normally a soprano would rise out of the orchestra but these pianists make up for this, in part, by fine detail and poetry. These two pianists create a great feeling of stillness before building in grand chords to the final climax.

This is an intriguing and fascinating piano reduction that receives a very fine performance, revealing aspects of the music that may be lost in full scale performances. To make too much of the losses caused by the absence of soloists, choir, orchestra and organ is to miss the point of hearing this fascinating reduction. Mahler’s publisher was obviously keen to share this work with a wider audience through Walter’s reduction, something no longer needed. But for Mahler enthusiasts this new recording will be a must.

The recording made in the Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn Hall, University for Music and the Performing Arts, Vienna, Austria is excellent.  There are useful booklet notes.

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1 comment:

  1. I love this piece precisely because I know the fully orchestrated version so well. That is, I think I have somehow learned from it as one gets a sense of the simple melodies/rhythms that feel like original inspiration itself (what Mahler heard while walking) and how these simple elements combine to create the majesty of the 2nd symphony. As though we somehow participate in its creation, not merely in its performance.