Alban Berg Ensemble Wien, led by Sebastian Gürtler, is a class act among its seven regular members and is open to friends, here the oboe of Nora Cismondi and the double bass of Alois Posch. Depending on when needed during this recital, each of the nine players is quite brilliant – technically and musically – and they need to be given the close proximity afforded them by what otherwise would be the unforgiving microphoning: not one note escapes, which makes for true listener involvement and the fullest appreciation of these musicians’ qualities.
This programme of Transcriptions includes Webern’s masterly/wholly sympathetic reduction (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano) of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony (Opus 9), which retains the energy, still-centre beauty and harmonic knottiness of the original sixteen-instrument scoring (music I got to know in my teens thanks to the local library and Zubin Mehta’s Decca LP of it, coupled with that composer’s Variations, Opus 31, both of which I was very responsive to – glad to be reacquainted with them thanks to Decca’s recent box of Mehta’s complete LA Phil recordings). The Berg Ensemble gives a reading of Webern’s version that is precise, virtuosic and sensitive, pianist Ariane Haering especially noteworthy, even if it’s invidious to pick her out amongst so much excellence.
The other arrangements are by Martyn Harry. The disc begins sombrely, if exuding deep feeling, with the opening Adagio of Mahler’s left-unfinished Tenth Symphony, here for flute, clarinet, string quartet and piano, music that hangs on the cliff-edge of life, and does so with intensity from the Berg members. Finally, the Suite from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, arranged for a nonet – exuberant, inviting/seductive, ooh-la-la rhythms, tender and, of course, waltzing. Enjoyment abounds.
All in all, a notable recorded debut for Alban Berg Ensemble Wien, the Schoenberg/Webern alone worth the price of admission. DG 481 9187.