Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (arr. Stein)
Arnold Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances ran for some three years from 1918, offering its subscribers a wide range of new music away from the pressures and prejudices of the market (critics were banned). Hiring an orchestra was too expensive, so large-scale works were often arranged for chamber ensemble. Erwin Stein, an early student of Schoenberg’s, arranged Mahler’s Fourth Symphony for flute, oboe, clarinet, piano, harmonium, two percussionists, string quartet and bass.
Of course, the strings lack the weight of a full orchestra and one misses the horns in particular – though Stein comes up with some ingenious substitutions for their parts. The harmonium is discreetly used to sustain and fill out textures, rarely asserting its reedy timbre. Trevor Pinnock directs a disciplined and expressive performance at ample tempos appropriate enough for a resonant full orchestra but sometimes a little too staid to sustain the momentum of a drier-toned chamber ensemble. His reading of the Debussy Prélude arrangement is actually slower than most orchestral performances: you get more sense of its perfumed languor than of its momentary eddies and sparkles of light. The recording, made in St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, has a wide dynamic range, though in very quiet passages the sound loses a little in presence.