Melba Recordings

"... a label of fragrant distinction"

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Audiophilia (Canada)
Andrew Fawcett

Audiophilia Recommended New Releases November 2014

As off-the-wall as Linn’s recent release (CKD438) of a chamber arrangement of Mahler’s “little” 4th Symphony had seemed, this new disc from Australia’s Melba label absolutely takes the cake! A reduction of the famously huge “Resurrection” Symphony for piano might seem impossible, yet Mahler conceived large parts of it on that instrument, and the practice was far from uncommon at the end of the 19th Century.   

In a time before recordings, when many would never have the chance to hear new works performed by an orchestra, piano arrangements provided a commercially astute opportunity for a composer’s music to be heard more widely. During Mahler’s lifetime, versions of the 2nd Symphony for two pianos and for four hands were in circulation, but it is the century-old arrangement for double duet (two pianos / eight hands) by Heinrich von Bocklet that receives its world premiere recording here.

The ability of two pianos to effectively convey the power and complexity of large-scale orchestral music – especially when played, as here, by four musicians – is remarkable. If you need convincing, check out the terrifying climax to the third movement, and its gloriously tender resolution in the fourth. The reduction in the music’s sense of scale is barely observed; what is lost, inevitably, is the richness of the tonal palette in Mahler’s glorious orchestration. What the piano version emphasises, though, is the work’s sheer melodiousness, it’s almost constant flow of harmonic invention and simplicity of line … ultimately complementing the original far more than it competes with it.

The playing is excellent throughout, maintaining an impressive sense of momentum that’s reflected in a timing several minutes shorter than is typical. The recording is, in best Melba tradition, absolutely superb; supremely natural, with huge soundstage width and achieving the rare feat of keeping the two pianos spatially distinct. Anyone who loves the “Resurrection” can only have their enjoyment increased by this alternative perspective – while anyone who doesn’t almost certainly will by the time the disc finishes