Mahler, Gustav
Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 (arr. for piano for 4 hands)
Pianoduo Trenkner / Speidel
nr katalogowy
MDG 930 1778-6
The likelihood is that Bruno Walter designed his transcriptions of Mahler’s First and Second Symphonies for public performance. Dynamics, phrasings and accents have been dropped in with forensic clarity, a concentration of detail unnecessary had the purpose merely been to demonstrate the broad outlines of Mahler’s works to potential interested parties. These transcriptions were meant to spread the word, reaching out to audiences during a time when performances of Mahler symphonies were still rare events. But to 21st-century ears the compromises are clear enough. There is a finale in the Second Symphony, but not a choral one, and having a piano faithfully convey the timbre of the sustained A spread over five octaves at the start of the First Symphony was never a realistic prospect and so Walter doesn’t bother; instead the note is reiterated, giving the opening a curiously urgent, slightly ritualistic quality. And add to that equation the vanilla equal temperament of the piano, which can’t bend towards the more gamy intonation we’ve become accustomed to – intervals leaning sharpwards or inclining flatwards as required – and you could be forgiven for asking: where’s the fun in hearing these pieces arranged for four-hands piano? And yet I challenge any Mahler aficionado not to be transfixed by these recordings, both for the boldness of Walter’s aural imagination and the sheer intellectual muscle of Evelinde Trenkner and Sontraud Speidel’s playing. You could file Walter’s efforts under historical follies and exotica but I like the way he forces you, albeit retrospectively, to reassess your own relationship to this by now utterly familiar music – familiar soundscapes obliged to exist in another guise. The listening process is reversed: when the intonation feels wrong, ears adjust; when parts are missing, your imagination fills in the gap. Listening becomes proactive rather than reactive. Which is always to be encouraged.
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