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Transcriptions for choir a capella by Clytus Gottwald
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Erinnerung [3:25]
Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen [6:00]
Um Mitternacht [6:07]
Die zwei blauen Augen [6:05]
Urlicht [6:18]
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [7:25]
Scheiden und Meiden; Das Knaben Wunderhorn [2:49]
Es sungen drei Engel [4:27]
Im Abendrot; Adagietto from Symphony No.5 [10:44]
Alma MAHLER (1879-1964)
Die stille Stadt [3:30]
Laue Sommernacht [2:30]
Bei dir ist es traut [3:49]
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Marcus Creed
rec. March-April 2012, SWR Stuttgart Funkstudio
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.370 [63:41]

‘It is in no way auxiliary to the original, but an independent form, a reflection on the original. After transcription, the pieces are no longer the same.’ Thus Clytus Gottwald, on the relationship between the transcription and the original. Given that he was inspired by Ligeti’s Lux aeterna in the 1960s and that he has dismissed Richard Strauss’s attempts to find a new choral sound as ‘a blind alley’, it’s clear that he has a Boulezian sense of self-confidence about his mission. But given that it’s not truly possible to reconceive the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony as a literal transcription for a capella choir, Gottwald seeks other methods to render the work. Harmony and melodic lines are respected, nor can any alteration be made to the structure of the piece.
 
To continue with this example - and it is a singular example given it’s an orchestral transcription, not one of the usual lieder transcriptions - Gottwald has taken Joseph von Eichendorff’s Im Abendrot as the text for the Adagietto, regarding the movement as an ‘air’, a love song, and thus, in his view, in many ways a legitimate approach to take. The potential expansion of the choral repertoire occasioned by such work is a consideration, though whether many choirs will take it on board is a moot point. I find Gottwald’s work on Urlicht, whilst beautiful in itself, devoid of the explicit colouration and timbres evoked in its symphonic-orchestral context. Doubtless the counter-argument is that it could hardly be otherwise and that is why this and other pieces have independence as works of art in themselves. Quite what is brought to Alma Mahler’s three lieder, though, is perhaps less certain. Something seems to blunt her harmonic modernity when her songs are inflated in this way.
 
Gottwald is now seemingly less complacent about the success of his transcription of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen - which is only one of three pieces here to have been recorded before - and it is probably his most successful transcription in this collection of pieces by the Mahlers. One appreciates that it has its place here, though another performance can be found, for example, on Gottwald’s Trankriptionen album on Carus 83.181.
 
The singing is really splendid, and at a somewhat higher level of sensitivity and dynamic control to that on a companion disc called Hymnus an das Leben [83.458 - see review], which is sung by the KammerChor Saarbrücken. Maybe that is reason enough to invest.
 
Jonathan Woolf