Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 transcribed by David Briggs

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Chestnut
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (transcr. Briggs)
PERFORMER: Julia Morson (soprano), Christina Stelmacovich (mezzo-soprano); City of Birmingham Choir; Renaissance Singers; David Briggs (organ)/Christopher Robinson
CATALOGUE NO: 92:19 mins

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Not so long ago organ transcriptions were considered relics of a bygone age when the ‘king of instruments’ was often the most easily accessed conduit for orchestral music. Yet when the Paris Philharmonie’s new organ recently made its CD debut, Olivier Latry turned not to Widor or Messiaen, but to a cornucopia of orchestral arrangements. It’s a reconnection long championed by David Briggs whose extensive appropriations already encompass both Elgar symphonies as well as a sizeable chunk of the Mahler canon including the Symphony of a Thousand . He transcribed the Resurrection in 2012 for New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine, and this first recording was made in Blackburn Cathedral last year.

With the vocal elements consigned to the last two movements (unlike the Eighth which disperses them throughout), Briggs has to work harder to secure the listener’s undivided attention, but it’s something he mostly pulls off thanks to the vivid immediacy of his articulation and ability to inhabit the Mahlerian mindset. Not everything, however, works as well as the hushed, mysterious entry of the chorus in the Finale, a movement in which Briggs devises some especially ingenious registrations to transmit Mahler’s orchestral exoticisms. The Ländler-like Andante Moderato loses some of its rustic naivety in translation, and the pivotal Urlicht fourth movement emerges as somewhat one-dimensional, Christina Stelmacovich’s mezzo, warm but unvaried and not always secure. Still, Briggs’s is a bold re-imagining – and beautifully recorded.

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Paul Riley