Festival Ensemble Spannungen

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (Fassung Erwin Stein)

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There's no dearth of recordings of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in G major, and most of them are performances of the full orchestral version. Yet Erwin Stein's chamber version of the symphony has increased in popularity, and some excellent recordings have attracted interest in this transcription's curious origin. In the early 1920s in Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg organized a series of private concerts of new works, which were performed by a small ensemble for a circle of subscribers, excluding critics and hecklers. This called for ingenuity, and Schoenberg, Stein, and their friends made sophisticated versions of important orchestral works, usually for a few woodwinds, a string quintet, piano, harmonium, and percussion. This made performances more manageable and the music more widely available, and since these versions have been rediscovered, modern chamber groups have happily added them to their repertoire. This Avi recording by the conductorless Festival Ensemble Spannungen is a live performance that captures the fun of the arrangement, and the proximity of the players seems to have inspired an especially intimate performance, with many exchanges that feel spontaneous and humorous. The tempos are a little fluid, and the group's looseness makes the music seem a little haphazard at times. But the energy and joy of the symphony covers a multitude of rough entrances, and overall, the performance benefits from the abundant enthusiasm. Newcomers to the symphony should be careful to learn the full orchestral version first, but listeners who know it well will find Stein's reduction fascinating.

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