Review by georgeflanagin April 29, 2009 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
This disc is something of a mixed bag. If you are a fan of Liszt's transcriptions of the works of everyone else, you will probably enjoy this disc, but be disappointed if you were expecting Liszt's level of quality. If you are a pianist in search of fringe material, you may enjoy it, and the playing is quite good. If you are a student of Mahler's work, it is an easy choice for completists. Enjoyable to listen to? Not really.
The music & the performance as a bundle:
This is a four hand adaptation by Bruno Walter of the four familiar movements of Mahler's Symphony #1; i.e., no Blumine. We know that Mahler did a good bit of his composition at the piano, and the liner notes tell the story of Walter's introduction to Mahler's work through the same vehicle.
Many readers will be familiar with Liszt's transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, as well as his arrangements of all kinds of non-piano music by major and minor composers, of his and preceding periods in time. If only he could have arranged into the future. I would think that arranging a Mahler symphony for twenty fingers is a tall order, especially considering Mahler's mastery of orchestration. Walter has gone down the same road as Liszt in this quest, but without similar results.
There are some interesting moments in the piece where the skeleton supporting all the original orchestral color is exposed, much like the successes in Liszt's transcriptions and arrangements. Most of the time, it just seems like too many notes. In other words, it is /thick/. Mahler knew Bruno Walter; Bruno Walter was a friend of his; but Bruno Walter was no Franz Liszt.
Regardless of what I think of the source material, it is delivered accurately. The playing is good, and the memorable melodic moments of the symphony jump out with clarity. Of course, I have no way of knowing how other people perform the same work, so I will limit my comments to a paraphrase of Bach: ``the Prague Piano Duo strike the correct keys at the correct times.''
Although the change to two pianos would present its own problems, the music seems like it would be more suited to two instead of one. For one thing, there would be a slight increase in overall ability to rattle the rafters with powerful sound, and more significantly, the ability to separate pedal action would allow for some legato playing on one piano while being able to use the sustain on the other.
The recording & the sound:
What happened here? I am used to Praga Digital providing a consistent level of SACD product, with some of the recordings being true demonstration pieces. In this recording, the piano is muffled, particularly in the lower registers. How muffled? It sounds like my wife's piano when she puts the blanket on the strings for late night practice. I routed the recording through a spectrum analyzer, and noted that up to an octave below middle C, the level is 5 or 6 dB lower than the rest of the keyboard during the loud sections. In most piano recordings, the acoustic energy usually reaches its maximum in the 40-80Hz octave corresponding to the band between the third and second A-flats below middle C in standard tuning.
I am not sure how this effect is achieved, but it is not acceptable when compared to modern recording practice. Perhaps it is different in multichannel?
Poorly recorded, well played, fringe repertoire that is not otherwise available. It's up to you.
(c) 2009 George Flanagin
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