I was listening to the chamber version of Copland's Appalachian Spring the other day and was struck, again, by how much I preferred this to the full, orchestral version. Technically, this chamber version isn't a reduction, since it was composed first - some years before the orchestral expansion, in fact - but it made me think more generally about the whole field of reductions and chamber versions: the extra clarity of line, the sharper and somehow more intimate textures, the added spaciousness and pungency which comes from hearing individual instruments. You also get some of the give and take, the spontaneous flexibility, which is characteristic of good chamber performances and more or less impossible when there are a hundred-plus instruments.
And, of course, they are cheaper and easier to perform.
Yet somehow, most of us seem to be a bit cautious when it comes to chamber versions of bigger works. We feel they aren't authentic (an obession of a super-puritanical age), not quite trustworthy. Certainly not serious rivals to the real thing. They are curiosities, acceptable for an occasional listen, but otherwise not really all that interesting. A few versions (like Schoenberg's Das Lied) have made their way into the canon - or at least within shouting distance - but the vast bulk remain in exile, unknown even to connoisseurs.
Yet there are some terrific and interesting pieces out there, many of which were arranged by noted composers. Mozart arranged three of his own piano concertos for string quartet, though it might be more accurate to say that he simultaneously composed two version of the same piece: one for the home, and one for the concert hall. You can get recordings of these, but how many of them are there? How many performances are there? They are authentic masterworks by Mozart, after all. Why do we always have to have the bigs ones? After Mozart's death, Hummel arranged a fair number of his old teacher's works for chamber instruments - a string quartet, usually, along with a piano and a flute. Again, you get get these, but they are pretty rare.
There are chamber versions floating around of all kinds of famous works. You can get Chopin's two piano concertos for string quintet and piano. Whether Chopin did the arranging, we don't know, but we certainly know he played such a version in his own home and that he approved the publication. You can get Bruckner and Mahler symphonies in a reduced form. There is, for instance, a really wonderful version of Bruckner's second symphony by Anthony Payne, conducted by Trevor Pinnock.
There are, of course, many more examples out there..........so:
Does anyone else out there listen to chamber reductions? Or know of any interesting ones? Or have an opinion about the pros/cons of them? Or have an explanation for their relative unpopularity? Or have anything at all to say on the subject.........?