Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (arr. Schoenberg/Riehn)

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WORKS: Das Lied von der Erde (arr. Schoenberg/Riehn)
PERFORMER: Manchester Camerata/Douglas Boyd

Because it was so difficult to get contemporary music performed in Vienna, a notoriously reactionary city, Schoenberg and his friends formed an Association for Private Musical Performances, where many of the works performed were reorchestrated for small forces. Among these works was Mahler’s supreme achievement Das Lied von der Erde. Schoenberg, who worshipped Mahler, began the reduced score, but soon handed it on to Webern, but the Association was bankrupt, and it wasn’t until 1983 that Rainer Riehn completed the job. There are solo strings and winds, a piano, a harmonium and percussion, with a celesta at the close.
It works remarkably well, partly because though Mahler used huge orchestral forces, much of the time in his works the scoring is of chamber proportions. This performance under the greatly gifted Douglas Boyd is impressive, if  – of course – less impressive than the finest recordings using the full orchestra, of which there are quite a few, Otto Klemperer’s and Bruno Walter’s being to my mind the most overwhelming. But in this recording many interesting details come to light, and the soloists are both fine, without being overtaxed in the way that almost everyone is in the full orchestral version.  There are a few places where the reduced orchestration is redolent of a Palm Court ensemble, and in the great dirge in the centre of the last song they simply can’t produce enough tone. Connoisseurs of this masterpiece will certainly want to hear it. Michael Tanner