Alban Berg Ensemble Wien [Deutsche Grammophon]

Alban Berg Ensemble Wien
5 of 5 stars

Mahler (arr. Harry)
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp (1910) – Adagio

Schoenberg (arr. Webern)
Chamber Symphony No.1 in E, Op.9 (1906)

Strauss (ed. Rodziński, arr. Harry)
Der Rosenkavalier, Op.59 (1910) – Suite

Alban Berg Ensemble Wien [Silvia Careddu, flute; Alexander Neubauer, clarinet; Sebastian Gürtler & Régis Bringolf, violins; Subin Lee, viola; Florian Berner, cello; Ariane Haering, piano] with Nora Cismondi, oboe & Alois Posch, double bass

Recorded September 2019 at Lorely-Saal, Vienna


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: November 2020
CD No: DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 481 9187
Duration: 67 minutes

It may have started out as a centenary tribute to the Society for Private Musical Performances over which Schoenberg presided during 1918-22, but the Alban Berg Ensemble Wien has now found a more pressing function for those reductions of orchestral works that once provided an introduction to listeners, such as might take on renewed importance in the post-pandemic era. Its first release brings together an acknowledged masterpiece from the genre with two recent arrangements of pieces as were both written at a crucial juncture in Viennese musical history.

The masterpiece in question is Webern’s arrangement (its scoring identical to that of Pierrot Lunaire) of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony which, made during 1922-3, manages to preserve the original’s contrapuntal intricacy while avoiding any inherent problem of balance. Not that most previous recordings have avoided that sense of struggle as might feel built into its realisation, making the ABEW exceptional in intonational precision and clarity of texture. This is especially audible in those transitional episodes either side of the ‘scherzo’, the latter leading to a ‘development’ of gradually accumulating tension that yet makes way for a ‘slow movement’ searching in its eloquence. Equally fine is the emotional build-up near the outset of the ‘coda’, as salient motifs reappear and are transformed in a close of surging affirmation.

Now Deryck Cooke’s edition has accorded repertoire status to the complete work, the opening Adagio of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony is less often heard as a stand-alone item and, a fine piano transcription by Ronald Stevenson aside, has not received a significant chamber arrangement. That by Martyn Harry goes a long way towards fulfilling its remit, not least the piano’s astute filling-in of the string texture at key points within this unfolding design. Expressive contrasts between the three main themes are tellingly conveyed, and while the woodwind contributions can seem added on to the musical fabric, the dextrous motivic interplay of the development is as lucidly elaborated as the movement’s emotional apex – clarinet here replacing trumpet – is plangent in its intensity. Nor is there any falling-off of tension in a coda of luminous serenity.

There could be no reservations as concerns this arrangement of the Suite from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, assembled by Artur Rodziński in 1944 and which, though it offers a plausible overview, contrives to lose most of this opera’s subtlety and poise with its overall crudeness. All credit, then, to Harry for overcoming this defect almost entirely through endowing these various sections with a textural consistency that (coincidentally?) enables the all too evident formal connections to proceed as if seamlessly. As in the opera, it is the episodes of greatest intimacy and expressive warmth – the presentation of the rose or the culminating trio – that prove most affecting, though the waltz music lacks nothing in wryness or suavity, while the usually bombastic final section exudes a fervent abandon which readily carries all before it.

With its lustrous, well-defined sound ideal for such music-making and a decent scene-setting note by Philipp Blom, this is an auspicious debut from ABEW that will hopefully see a rapid follow-up – whether, or not, this is determined more by logistical than cultural considerations.

Further information at https://www.deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/products/alban-berg-ensemble-wien-12038

The ensemble’s website at http://www.albanbergensemblewien.com/

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