The transcriptions of German musicologist Clytus Gottwald can be listened to in several ways. They are a cappella choral versions of songs and even of texted instrumental music, and as such they radically smooth down the source material and offer a relaxing bath of sound that has brought some choirs a measure of crossover success. On the other hand, they focus the mind closely on the harmonies, and in a way they are analyses of their sources (Gottwald himself calls them "reflections"). The French choir Accentus has recorded them successfully, but the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart (the Vocal Ensemble of Southwest German Radio), one of the unheralded but supremely talented choirs that dot the German landscape, also does very well in these complex arrangements mostly for eight, nine, or ten parts. The choir maintains the requisite pearly tone in the dense arrangements of songs by Gustav Mahler; check out Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I have become detached from the world, track 6), where the sopranos have to go up to D flat two octaves above middle C without cracking a sweat. Even more newsworthy are the three songs by a young Alma Mahler, whom Gottwald has championed. The songs were composed just before Alma met Gustav Mahler, and they will make you even more irked that he ordered her to give up composing after they married. These songs have been dismissed as trivial, but Gottwald makes a very strong case for them. They resemble the music of Zemlinsky, whose student Alma was, more than that of Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss, and Gottwald's arrangement puts the spotlight on their considerable harmonic daring. Accentus' recording, with its preternatural clarity of sound, remains a good pick for this unusual music, but those interested in Alma Mahler, especially, will find this release very nearly as good.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony No. 5|