Douglas Boyd

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (Chamber Version)

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Another recording of Erwin Stein's transcription of Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony for chamber orchestra? First there was Kenneth Slowik leading the Smithsonian Chamber Players and the Sante Fe Pro Musica on Dorian. Then there was Peter Stangel leading Die Taschenphilharmonie on Preiser. And now here is Douglas Boyd leading the Manchester Camerata on Avie. Is this a tendency, a movement, or wholesale revisionism?

Any one of these alternatives is possible, but it seems more likely that it is simply marketing. With a surfeit of Fourths on the market, including performances by Mahler's friends Mengelberg, Walter, and Klemperer, there is surely no need for new recordings of the work in its original form. But as re-imagined for chamber ensemble by Schoenberg's pupil Erwin Stein, there is, if not exactly a need, at least an interest in hearing the work again. Besides, hiring a chamber orchestra is cheaper than hiring a symphony orchestra.

The really remarkable thing is not that there are now three recordings of Stein's transcription, but that all three transcriptions are worth hearing. The warm expressivity of Boyd and the Camerata interpretation are matched by the technical excellence of their performance, which is as loving as it is lucid, always a good balance in Mahler. If Slowik and Stangel's performances are ultimately preferable to Boyd's, it is only because the sopranos in their finale are a bit more affecting and a little less arch than Boyd's Kate Royal and Avie's sound is a bit more distant and a little less clear than Dorian's and Preiser's. Still, for listeners who can't get enough of Stein's transcription of Mahler's Fourth, Boyd's recording will be welcome.

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