MAHLER: Kindertotenlieder (arr. Riehn); Quartettsatz; Lieder einen fahrenden Gesellen (arr. Schoenberg); BUSONI: Berceuse élégiaque (arr. Stein) – Sara Mingardo, contralto/ Grazia Raimondi, violin/ Silvio Di Rocco, viola/ Olaf Laneri, piano/ Musici Aurei/ Luigi Piovano, cello & cond. – Eloquentia EL 1233, 00:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:
Arrangements of Mahlerian song cycles seem to be a cottage industry in some quarters. The argument often used is that Mahler uses his own orchestra in a very chamber-like manner, so why not reduce the forces in order to provide more opportunities for performance? Well, for one, the forces used here in this recording are such that a performance in a chamber setting is most unlikely; the reduced instrumentation is not the type of combination that is easy to set up in any chamber music setting. At one time, when there were societies dedicated to the performance of new music, like the one that Schoenberg headed (and arranged his setting for) this made sense. But one can hardly make the case that any of the Mahler works on this disc are suffering from a dearth of performances—or recordings either, for that matter.
As is, Italian mezzo Sara Mingardo has a concentrated highly focused voice that offers controlled and expressive vibrato, and a dynamic range that fluctuates very easily according to the need of the moment, making her renditions very effective, despite the anemic accompaniment provided by the arrangements. Make no mistake, they are done well, and the playing is beyond reproach; but Mahler knew what he was doing here, and one misses his orchestration right from the beginning. I do wish that Mingardo had recorded this with full orchestra.
The two curiosities here are Mahler’s only—and very early—chamber piece, the Quartettsatz, ten minutes of very romantic and passionate music that dimly begins to hint as to what would follow. Busoni’s Berceuse élégiaque maybe works better in arrangement form than the Mahler pieces, but only just; nevertheless it is harder to come by on recordings as and such is welcome here. The sound is warm and nicely focused, giving ample favorability to Mingardo’s voice, flattering indeed.
A welcome addition to Saint-Saëns symphonic works