Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (transcr. Briggs)

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Priory
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 (transcr. Briggs)
PERFORMER: Symphony No. 5 (transcr. Briggs)
CATALOGUE NO: PRCD 649
These transcriptions are mostly the work of the organists performing them, and on the whole they’re good, but even the best-endowed organ doesn’t have quite the tonal subtlety and expressive potential of a virtuoso orchestra, and music designed for the one doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably on the other.

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Much of the detail on Chorosinski’s disc is lost in the swirly acoustics of the Wuppertal Stadthalle, though the louder, punchier passages have clearer definition and the ear adjusts in time. Weisflog and Kumer’s duets are variable. Rapidly repeated quavers, which can sound so lively and buoyant in the middle strings, are flabby on the organ, and they hold back the flow, especially in the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The Brahms items are exaggeratedly dreamy. But Ravel’s own transcription of ‘Daybreak’ from Daphnis et Chloé is a winner, beautifully played, and a dash of the ‘mighty Wurlitzer’, tremulant and all, would have transported Voices of Spring straight into the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool.

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Briggs’s arrangement of Mahler’s Fifth is splendid in every way, full of imaginative touches, thoroughly organistic, and performed here with an unerring sense of style and architectural proportion. If you want just one of these discs, this is the one to choose. But even this is scarcely a challenge to Mahler’s original orchestral score. I still have Barbirolli ringing in my ears. Wadham Sutton