Yesterday, I was driving to the mall to pick up some Pumpkin/Pecan Butter from Williams-Sonoma when I heard the most AWFUL thing on the radio. I was listening to KUSC (Los Angeles' only remaining public classical radio station) and while there are moments I wish it had a skip button like Pandora (since there are certainly some songs that are not enjoyable to listen to in LA traffic) I tend to enjoy most of their programming. When I turned the radio on it was mid-song and I knew instantly I had to change it because there was an accordion and cello playing together..two textures that did not blend in the slightest unless the goal was to make the audience's hair stand on end. Unfortunately, a fragment of the melody sounded familiar and then it became the struggle to try to remember what the piece was. I managed to figure out by the recap of the primary theme that it was Dvorak's Silent Woods...except that the piano had been dropped in favor of an accordion. It was cringeworthy. I do my best to keep an open mind, especially since there would be so many great pieces of music I never would have grown to like had I not, but this felt terribly wrong...like if you were served a slice of toasted nut topped rum cake, only to find out they used fish sauce instead of rum. *Shudder* Needless to say, when I got home I needed to cleanse my ears with the original four-hand piano version (which you can hear in a post I wrote about it a while ago) but this post isn't about Dvorak...its about Mahler.
In the spirit of the Mahler quote I posted last, I've been listening to a lot of pieces played on instruments they weren't originally written for. Hell, every time you listen to an orchestra play Pictures at an Exhibition, you are listening to a re-orchestration, since Mussorgsky wrote it for solo piano. Many great orchestra works started as piano works...and so I've been listening to orchestra works that were then condensed down for piano. My current favorite is performed by Cyprien Katsaris*, who has a full CD willed with orchestral transcriptions for piano...many of which are premiered for the first time on that recording. His performance of the Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 is beautiful, delicate, thoughtful, and with just the right amount of momentum which helps it feel like its just dragging on forever (yes, I'm looking at you Bernstein). If you like it, certainly check out the rest of the album. Its excellent. Either way, download this and put it on your playlist of solo piano music you study to (be honest, most people have one).
*Note: The transcription is by Karol A. Penson...who actually isn't primarily a musician. He's a Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris VI, France who specializes in Quantum Mechanics and Combinatorics. How cool is that?