LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Adagietto from Symphony No. 5; String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (orch. Mahler) Verklärte Nacht
PERFORMER: Smithsonian Chamber Players/ Kenneth Slowik
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77374 2
The concept behind the combination of works is novel and interesting. Mahler dominates the thinking, 19th-century authenticity the playing (small forces, all on gut strings). For those who dislike portamento on string instruments (scooping between one note and the next, to put it crudely) be warned that it abounds. There are also snippets of Mengelberg and Walter, conducting disciples of Mahler who, despite their shared reverence for him, produced interpretations poles apart. It would have been more effective to place these either before or immediately after the Smithsonians’ account.
Despite good sound, one misses the texture of a full (modern) symphonic string section in the Adagietto. The playing is very good in Beethoven’s quartet, orchestrated by Mahler as ‘it could not be played properly by four miserable fiddlers’. Portamento returns in the Schoenberg (not so apparent in the Beethoven) and it is given an intensely passionate reading by Slowik. The composer’s commentary to the work forms an illustrated lecture read (in English) by his erstwhile assistant Richard Hoffmann. Christopher Fifield