Recomposed by Matthew Herbert: Mahler Symphony X (CD, Deutsche Grammophon, July 2010)

You’ve got to love Matthew Herbert for going the extra mile. Whereas Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald, say, used Ravel and Mussorgsky as source material for their Recomposed offering, Herbert has clearly used Mahler as text for his. The work in question is the unfinished tenth symphony, a work which seems to be particularly obsessed by death. Herbert has responded to this by sampling a recording of the adagio being played on a car radio fitted into a coffin, over the speakers at a crematorium, and out of a hearse. He also had the viola solo played at Mahler’s grave, and recorded that. All of which was splendid marketing for the record — indeed, many people are probably sick of reading about it by now. Handily, the result is musically successful too. Though bracingly experimental, it is also powerfully melodic. Indeed, the glitchiness, often sounding like someone is twiddling the dial of an old fashioned radio, meant that I find myself appreciating the tunes all the more — whereas I find Mahler himself to be often too rich, so that my palate gets jaded, Herbert provides the light and shade required to keep me keen. I suppose you could say that it is this light and shade that gives Herbert’s work a genuine sense of drama where Mahler can err towards melodrama. The key, I think, is in the structure. Sometimes he plays it quite straight. Sometimes, he adds an ominous drone. Sometimes a sort of woozy distortion creeps in, like the record is slowly warping. Sometimes, wonderfully, the whole thing just stops abruptly, leaving the last note hanging in the air. The same fragments keep returning, subtly different each time. The effect is strange and hypnotic.

I bought this from Juno. As with its predecessor, they call it Leftfield, whatever that means.

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