MAHLER: Symphony No.4, DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Chamber Arrangements)
Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler
Ensemble Debut Recording
“The Martingale Ensemble under Ken Selden gives us a wondrous chamber version of the work, along with a similarly paired-down Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, all in a fetching 2011 release... [this] chamber version, played marvelously well, has its own charms. Paired down to the bone, often without doubling of parts (statistically or otherwise) except understandably at times in the strings, you hear the music with a new clarity. It is an uncanny experience... Ken Selden and the Martingale Ensemble outdo themselves with a very warm and vivid reading of the scores. It is a fabulous album! Those who know the originals like the back of their hands will be delighted and surprised with how well the music sounds, and how different, advanced, modern yet timeless those lines seem when expressed more as a series of nudes, as it were. Anyone who for whatever reason does not know the music will also respond to it I am sure. Beautiful!! ”
Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Review [December 2015]
“These performances in and of themselves are well done, finely interpreted, and completely within a standard circle of current understanding—nothing weird or overdone here… the playing is excellent, the sound just right, and the singing of soprano Deanna Breiwick highly evocative and among the best of those women who have tackled this music.”
[ * * * ½ ] Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [August 2013]
"The Mahler...really has a good deal of charm... the Martingale Ensemble rises to the occasion even where the music's difficulty is increased in comparison with the orchestral version. American soprano Deanna Breiwick delivers a lovely performance of the vocal fourth movement, effectively scaling it back to art song dimensions. Sample some of her singing (on track 4, "Sehr behaglich), which you may well find worth the purchase price by itself. So varied is Stein's handiwork that the music never plods, even in the nearly 20-minute slow movement... [this CD is] an intriguing pick, especially for anyone interested in the interwar Viennese scene."
James Manhein, All Music [May 2012]
"This remarkable CD represents the debut of a new ensemble; the recording was made at their first concert. The professionalism and polish of the performances belie both the age of the ensemble itself and of the individual instrumentalists, all young members of various groups active in the Northwest. I haven’t heard a more promising premiere recording since the release of the debut concert of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under Claudio Abbado in 2002, which should give you a sense of the music contained herein. Conductor Ken Selden and his new band have produced a recording of startlingly impressive performances... Of the half-dozen or so recordings of this transcription of the Mahler Fourth, this new recording is the best-sounding and best-played version, hands down. I know of only one other recording of this arrangement of the Prelude (on an Eloquence CD featuring the Boston Symphony Chamber Players), so its inclusion on this disc makes for a very substantial bonus. Highly recommended."
Christopher Abbot, Fanfare [May/June 2012]
"I usually share [ARG Editor Donald Vroon’s] dislike for such reductions, but honesty compels me to make an exception. The Mahler, particularly, is a delight from stem to stern. Since 4 is Mahler’s lightest scored symphony, it suffers less in Stein’s arrangement than similar re-workings of Mahler’s more epic creations. The music sounds like an unusually charming and inventive serenade… the general sound is full and handsome in tone… Some sonorities are so fascinating that I’d bet hearing such an arrangement might have stimulated Mahler to compose his own chamber symphony. Even with a small ensemble, Selden’s interpretation is spacious and Breiwick’s singing in IV is engaging… An interesting and, more important, appealing release."
O'Connor, American Record Guide [March/April 2012]
"...a brisk, lithe reading of the first movement.... impassioned playing [in the slow movement]... sensitive and flexible playing [in the Debussy]"
Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine [February 2012]
“In both works the Pacific North-west musicians show themselves as a highly skilled, finely rehearsed unit. From the start, under Selden's clear direction in the symphony they take to Stein and Platt's condensed score with professional excellence… Young soprano Deanna Breiwick is quite exquisite in Sehr behaglich… [In Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune] flutist Alicia DiDonato Paulsen contributes most beautifully.”
Howard Smith, Music & Vision [January 12, 2012]
"[this] recording of Mahler Symphony No. 4 in G major is heavenly. Playing the arrangement for chamber orchestra by Erwin Stein, Martingale Ensemble, led by Maestro Ken Selden, superbly conveys the music that Mahler wrote for a large orchestra. With beautiful phrasing, dynamic and organic changes in the technical virtuoso, the twelve instrumentalists of Ensemble Martingale capture the essential themes and sweep the emotional content of this distilled version of the symphony."
Aurora Books and Gems [October 2011]
"Ken Selden does wonders with the score...Deanna Breiwick sings the last movement gloriously. The Debussy flows beautifully"
Turok's Choice [November 2011]
"Now, here’s an interesting idea. The concept for this program, and the Martingale Ensemble who perform it so persuasively under conductor Ken Selden, lies in an observation Arnold Schoenberg made a century ago in Vienna: namely that there was a noticeable disconnect between the new music of the day and the musical tastes of contemporary audiences. Reasoning that listeners might warm to the music of the modern composers if they had a chance to hear it more often and in more optimal conditions than those present in the symphony hall, where a new work seldom had a second chance to make an impression, Schoenberg, organized with some friends the Society for Private Musical Performances. Their intelligent arrangements of symphonic music for a smaller chamber ensemble, presented on a weekly basis, proved a successful idea... The members of the Martingale Ensemble replicate the very instruments Schoenberg and his pals had at their disposal. In beautifully proportioned performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, they make an important point. With the smaller resources, you can get closer to the essential music... We sense that right from the opening movement of the Mahler, with those famous sleigh bells that we know so well. The four movements of the symphony all have markings that suggest relaxed (but not necessarily slow) tempi: (translated) I. Moderately, not rushed, II. Leisurely moving, without haste, III. Peacefully, somewhat slowly, IV. Very comfortably. Selden makes optimal choices within these basic tempi, so that the natural beauties and distinctive points come through in fine detail. The effect of the percussion in the climax late in I, the beautiful way the cello and bass underscore the flowing progress of the music and the sad, delicate sound the violin makes in its higher register in III all come through with greater clarity than they would if they’d had to compete with more massive forces. The solo violin in II, tuned a tone higher than usual, makes an eerie, skeletal effect, as Mahler intended, for he envisioned a dance of death. In the finale, soprano Deanna Breiwick, though occasionally shrill, does successfully realize the element of childlike faith in the song text “Das himmlische Leben” (Heavenly Life), which closes the work... From the striking arpeggios we hear in the companion-piece, a chamber arrangement of Debussy’s Prelude, we might speculate that the harmonium has been augmented, as it sometimes is, by a string box with a sound like a harp attached to the top of the instrument. Once again, clarity and proportion are the order of the day, helping us visualize the shimmering languor of the afternoon and the desires that pass through the mind of the Faun, an incurable nymph-chaser. Transparent textures, in this performance, reveal essential elements of the score like veils slowly and delicately removed."
Phil Muse, Audio Club of Atlanta [October 2011]
"The Martingale Ensemble’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is heavenly. Playing the arrangement for chamber orchestra by Erwin Stein, the Martingale Ensemble, led by conductor Ken Selden, superbly conveys the music that Mahler wrote for a large orchestra in 1899-1901. With beautiful phrasing, organic shifts in dynamics, and virtuosic technique, the twelve instrumentalists of the Martingale Ensemble render Stein’s distilled version (which he completed in 1921) that captures the essential thematic sweep and the emotional content of the symphony… On the album is also a recording by the ensemble of Benno Sachs’s arrangement of Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.This arrangement (written in 1920) wonderfully mirrors the colors and textures of Debussy’s work… Released on the MSR Classics label, this debut recording features superb playing by all of the instrumentalists… Deanna Breiwick lovingly sings the text of Heaven’s Life in the last movement… This recording by the Martingale Ensemble should contribute to the enduring legacy of Mahler’s music and take an honored place on in the libraries of many music lovers."
Oregon Music News [September 5, 2011]
PROGRAM NOTESIn 1918, Arnold Schoenberg founded a private concert organization called Society for Private
Musical Performances (Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen), with the intention of promoting interest in contemporary music through exclusive performances of “all modern music from that of Mahler and Strauss to the newest, under the best possible conditions.” Only subscribers were admitted, and critics were excluded.
This kind of secluded private concert organization fit well into the artistic scene of early 1900s
Vienna, where artists and conoisseurs would frequently meet in private gatherings to discuss
music, art, literature, Sigmund Freud’s new ideas on psychology, or even to hold spiritual séances. Among the composers whose music was played were Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Mahler, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Debussy, Marx, Wellesz, Bartók, Ravel and Suk.
One of the goals of the Society was to connect contemporary abstract music with that of tonal
music in the late Romantic style. For this purpose, a series of orchestral works were arranged
for large chamber ensemble, drawing attention to the fundamental aspects of structure and
expression, and creating a framework to experience the music in an intimate setting. These
remarkable arrangements never entered the public concert repertoire, but recently there has been a renewed interest, from both a historical and performance perspective.
The context of the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen represents an important part of the historical background in which the works recorded on this CD were arranged and performed.