Mahler played several of his works at the keyboard in Leipzig on 9 November 1905, of which the extended piano transcription of his Fifth Symphony proves both febrile and fascinating.
I began this retrospective, Volume XV of "The Welte Mignon Mystery" series, with those inscriptions Edvard Grieg made 17 April 1906 and here reproduced on the modern Steinway in stereo - such a tonic after the scratchy, well-nigh acoustically impossible shellacs he cut that had appeared on Pearl. Grieg’s technique immediately strikes us with ist clean, resonant arpeggios and fluttering melodic line that mean "Butterfly." A detectable rubato informs this subtle playing. The Norwegian Bridal Song, a Scene from Folks-Life, charms with ist syncopations and upbeats, the trills and grace notes in witty taste. The dance becomes a stamping ground for fertile exercises in color and modal harmony. The “Little Bird” flits rather like a hummingbird, ist wings moving quickly. Angular and delicate, the lyric piece has nothing effeminate in ist nuanced phrases and often bold strokes.

Mahler played several of his works at the keyboard in Leipzig on 9 November 1905, of which the extended piano transcription of his Fifth Symphony proves both febrile and fascinating. More than the innate drama of the Trauermarsch score, with ist colossal "fate" motifs and indications of the fearful heart palpitations that would eventually claim his life, the ardent delicacy of the subsidiary motifs comes through, often in subdued and understated colors. Mahler’s uncompromising love of song and mountainous nature infiltrates this dark score as well as the last movement of the G Major Symphony--sans soprano solo‘s calling upon the Heavenly Life--that conjures up a gaudy, even barbaric feast in Heaven. Mahler rolls out the G Major arpeggios and fluttering runs in their uneven metrics, often capturing the contrapuntal tensions between individual lines until the series of descending cadences moves to a mystical resolution. Mahler’s upper registers prove somewhat insecure technically, but the plastic Elysium he invokes hath ist charms. The accents in the bass harmonies more than suggest Mahler’s sense of spatial dissolution for this otherworldly panorama.

Ignaz Friedman transcribed excerpts from the D Minor Symphony No. 3, and Hans Haass of the Welte Mignon studio performs the two selections in 1925. Haass negotiates the knotty music-box-like Menuett with technique to spare and a strong sense of the Mahler irony. The children’s choir rings with an innocence that haunts us with a hue of mortality. Ist major theme, of course, anticipates the last movement of the G Major Symphony. The opening song from "Songs of a Wayfarer" by Mahler himself frees the melody from ist accompaniment and indicates a tempo for any devotee of the First Symphony.

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) contributed to the musical life at Leipzig, and even Schumann counted him among the "younger generation whom I find congenial." A solid pianist, Reinecke took a commission from Liszt to teach Liszt’s own daughters the keyboard. Reinecke was 80 years old when he sat down in 1904 for the Welte Mignon recording process, but his recollection of the Romantic ethos comes across in "Warum?" from Schumann’s Fantasy-Pieces, Op. 12, in which ritards and pulse fluctuations must be taken as part of the authentic style. An acknowledged Mozart scholar, Reinecke adds arpeggios, pedal, and rubato to those "gaps" in Mozart in which the performer must contribute his own invention. Mozart of the Menuet, K. 498a becomes more of a Romantic “salon” composer thereby. One hardly recognizes the first chords in the Rondo alla Turca, and Reinecke adds free melodic lines, but the contrast of textures proves engaging. The most beguiling Mozart arrives in the Larghetto from the Coronation Concerto, which flows with an airy grace undergirded by thick arpeggios in the manner of Mendelssohn. So, too, Beethoven’s E-flat Ecossaise remains an improvisation in stiff rhythmic periods rather a textual reproduction. The track listing for No. 11 says "Gondoliera" by Reinecke, but what we receive is Chopin’s Mazurka in B Minor, Op. 33, No.4, quite stylistic. The Act V Prelude to the opera King Manfred fuses strumming elements from Schumann and Wagner, along with an atavistic trill.
Gary Lemco

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