Here are two outstanding discs that are from different sources, Russia and The Netherlands, yet have quite a bit in common. Both feature string-quartet repertory arranged for string orchestra, and the spirit of Mahler seems to be present in both releases. The great Romantic composer and conductor actually arranged Schuberts famous quartet, but he had intended to arrange all of Beethovens quartets as well. His plan was scrapped when the first such transcription (of the Quartet in F minor, Op. 95) was soundly rejected by critics and audience members alike. The Channel release seems a realization of part of Mahlers project.
Both of the chamber orchestras perform in an exceptional manner, with wonderful tone and impressive virtuosity. The Russian players have slightly greater warmth, which might be aided by a recording that is a touch more reverberant and close up. But the Netherlanders have sweet tone as well, and are helped along by a recording that is warm, transparent, and intimate. The Russian musicians play with precision, but the Dutch musicians are so incredibly precise that the ensemble seems like one instrument with 58 hands and 290 fingers. If you find that hard to believe, just sample the very fast final movement of the Walton piece, which, by the way, is also a transcription of a work originally written for string quartet.
The Schubert disc is rounded out with a soul-searching reading of Mahlers famous Adagietto in which the strings are joined by harp. Should you not have SACD equipment, both releases offer excellent stereo CD tracks, but the multichannel presentation offers far greater presence and detail.
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