Distinguished Club Private Arrangements – The Boston Musical Intelligencer
During the years 1918-21, under the heading Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen, Arnold Schoenberg and his colleagues produced versions for chamber ensemble of well-known orchestral masterpieces. The 177 concerts in Vienna featured mostly new music from all over Europe for a private member audience. Although these economical arrangements were undertaken and recorded by many local organizations, I remember in particular a Collage New Music rendition from 40 years ago of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16, arranged for 15 instruments by Schoenberg’s son-in-law, Felix Greissle. John Harbison, who conducted the performance from Greissle’s manuscript, mentioned that it was evident from the score that Schoenberg closely watched every minute of the arrangement process. [Publisher Lee Eiseman, who owns a harmonium Schoenberg probably played, has lent his instrument for many traversals of this repertoire, including Cantata Singers’ Das Lied von der Erde in the 80s and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony under Bramwell Tovey with the Rhode Island Philharmonic two years ago.]
From the back floor of Rockport Music’s Shalin Liu Auditorium, three-quarters full, Yoobin Son sang Debussy Syrinx, for solo flute. There are no more than three or four pieces for solo flute that one would want to hear, but this is one of the greatest. She played with a wider range of tempo and dynamics, and far more expression, than Debussy’s intimate score demanded, but regardless, it sounded great throughout.
Benno Sachs’ bedroom version Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun preserves much of Debussy’s original timbre quality with remarkable clarity, well underlined by clarity and precision for all players. A concert accordion, carefully handled by Michael Bridge, served as the requested harmonium – a regular replacement for verein gigs for its quietly gathered windy tone and tonal glue. You’ve heard this all along at mr. 4, after which the notes of the third horn in mm. 5, 8 and 9 appeared in the clarinet, and these were fine. On the last page of the score, the ghostly chords at mm. 107-108 — you can find them in Example 3 HERE — are memorable for two horns and first violins, all muted; Last night it really worked with the accordion and a muted violin. The transparency of the sound convincingly demonstrates how well this famous Prelude is a miracle of composition.
At Debussy’s First Rhapsody, a six-minute delight for solo clarinet with five-string accompaniment, flute and harp, Todd Palmer performed solo with full energy and expressiveness. . . and he made the arrangement. Debussy’s original orchestral tuttis ran smoothly, if a little loudly, with double-string solo strings. (Debussy originally marked this competition piece for clarinet and piano in 1910.
by Mahler Das Lied von der Erde constituted the second part of a full and triumphant evening. In recent months, in the course of writing an analytical essay, I have become more and more familiar with this recognized masterpiece of orchestral song, composed in 1909, with renewal and inheritance by Mahler of Schubert’s mind much more than Wagner’s usual perception. Above all Das lied is a bittersweet work, a farewell not to the world that Mahler could not face, but to the commemorated past, with the hope of moving forward (Ewig, ewig…). Mahler wrote to a friend that he could not have written his Kindertotenlieder (1901) after the death of his daughter Maria (1907); others have suggested that Das Lied von der Erde could perhaps be seen as a tribute to her, as the Kindertotenlieder occupy an important place in the background of later works. Mahler died before he could hear Das Lied von der Erde (created five months after his death, under the direction of Bruno Walter). On hearing the full orchestral version, one notices the preponderance of the upper register sound, and this was also evident in the chamber version, by Schoenberg and Rainer Riehn: fl. (picc.)-ob.(Ang. horn)-cl.(Cl. E flat., bass cl.)-bn., horn, accordion (replacing harmonium), piano, celesta, percussion, 5 strings . It’s really a large reduced orchestra, and it goes so far as to call it chamber music. Most of the time it felt like a bigger section of strings was needed to fill out the solo sound and in this case to hold the bottom of everything, to add more bass clefs, despite the expert care of the double bass worker. player Charles Clements.
The cycle begins and ends with two big songs, with four shorter numbers in between. The very active tenor Paul Groves, winner of the Richard Tucker Prize, alternated with the versatile and rising mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, creating the widest imaginable spectrum of emotions in strong and rich tones. Most of the time, however, they had to fight the instruments for good projection – a problem I attribute to the lack of acoustic depth in what is essentially a chamber music room. Musically and expressively, these performances were near perfect and very communicative. The audience showed tremendous enthusiasm.
Kudos to the beautiful professionalism and dedicated expression of the entire ensemble, with a special nod to Barry Shiffman, artistic director who also played viola throughout. Earl Lee, the skilled conductor, kept expert control over tempo changes and restrained dynamics (especially in the Mahler) without using a stick. Keith Horner provided well-written program notes. Special thanks to Ryan Roberts of the NY Philharmonic; he played the oboe and cor anglais with the most beautiful colors and the warmest expression that I had heard in years; it matters a lot in the final song, The Abschied (The farewell). Then he explained to me that he facilitated the low B flat of his English horn, which I heard clearly, with a special extension. This avoided the solution proposed by Mahler in his famous footnote in the score of The Trinklied of the Jammer der Erde “If there is no serious B-flat, play if.”