Daniela Bechly / Christiane Behn / Iris Vermillion / Mathias Weber

Mahler: Symphony No. 2

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The practice of reducing orchestral music to keyboard versions was widespread at the end of the 19th century, and even as massive a work as Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Resurrection," was transcribed for two pianos. The arrangement featured on this 2010 release on Musicaphon was by Hermann Behn, a friend and colleague of Mahler during his conducting tenure in Hamburg. To show his appreciation for the transcription, which was a surprise gift, Mahler played through the first three movements with Behn at his home and declared it to be an excellent version. Over the decades the manuscript was lost, though it was eventually recovered by Christiane Behn, the transcriber's descendant and co-performer with pianist Mathias Weber on this recording. Joined by soprano Daniela Bechly, alto Iris Vermillion, and the Harvestehude Chamber Choir, led by Claus Bantzer, Behn, and Weber give a decent performance that puts all the notes across but sounds more like a choral rehearsal than an insightful interpretation of the symphony. Listeners who intimately know this symphony and those who have at least heard the full scoring for orchestra will find this CD interesting as an artifact of Mahler's time but little more than that. Certainly, Mahler's special instrumental effects are lost in the two-piano version, and the power of this monumental work is severely weakened, making the choral setting of Friedrich Klopstock's ode seem underwhelming and far removed from the awe-inspiring original. For these reasons, newcomers should avoid this specialist's disc in favor of trying recordings by major conductors and orchestras, which present the work with all its sonorities and expressions fully realized.

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