Until the advent of the recorded age, composers made piano reductions of their symphonic wares to play before prospective orchestra managements. Gustav Mahler did just that with several symphonies, and he recorded Duo-Art rolls playing movements from them. With the mammoth ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, there have been arrangements for two pianos (Hermann Behn, 1895) and for piano duet (Bruno Walter, 1899), both recorded, unlike an extraordinary version for 2 pianos, 8 hands by Heinrich von Bocklet, first published in 1914. But now there is a recording of this version, all 78 minutes of it, released on a single CD on Melba’s Pantheon label.
Hearing the great orchestrator shorn of his orchestration is disconcerting at first, but slowly the listener begins to hear details that tend to be overshadowed by orchestral felicities or drowned by sheer noise. In these piano transcriptions Mahler is also released from the ego of conductors: here the composer’s own tempi and dynamics are obeyed assiduously. Familiar passages take on new identities; the valse macabre of the Scherzo movement, for instance, emerges coyly from the Viennese dance parlour, while the pathos of the Urlicht fourth movement is more heart-breaking than in its orchestral shroud.
That eminent and much loved musical polymath Stephen Emmerson is joined by three young Brisbane stars – Brieley Cutting, Angela Turner and Stewart Kelly – playing on matching Steinway D grand pianos. David Spearritt, Brisbane’s renowned sound engineer, has captured the crisp clarity of the Concert Hall of the Queensland Conservatorium. He has produced an evenness of spread and definition, such that each piano part is both differentiated and integrated.
This new CD is a must-have for every Mahler-buff and should be required listening for any maestro-wannabe who dares pick up a baton.