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Approve or Disapprove: You decide!

Another 'typical' release? Okashiro's Mahler "Titan" piano solo transcription has sharply divided international critics.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) 

 Symphony No.1 in D Major "Titan"
piano solo transcription by Chitose Okashiro,
based on 4 hands version by Bruno Walter
Chitose Okashiro, piano

  1. Langsam. Schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut 14'38"
  2. Kraftig bewegt 07'39"
  3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen 12'06"
  4. Sturmisch bewegt 21'12"  
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Okashiro's Mahler "Titan" piano solo transcription evoked sensational dispute in traditional classical music world.  Pros & cons, do you approve or disapprove?  Listen to the CD, and vote! Send us your vote, "approve" or "disapprove", along with your comments. We will report statistics & your opinion in the June issue of our free Chateau Records Newsletter.

Approval - Classical Music on the web
 - England

Disapproval -
American Record Guide - America
May/June issue     


Some folk I know say they "donft like" arrangements, largely because they "donft see the point" of messing about with a "perfectly good piece of music". Their problem, if "problem" it be, is that they canft see the arrangement as "different" in any essential way. Others, myself included, are fascinated by arrangements, largely because they want to find out what is the point of messing about with a perfectly good piece of music. With a bit of luck, you end up with two perfectly good pieces of music for the price of one!
I see very little merit in piano transcriptions today.  


A far more ambitious venture than Mussorgskyhs transcription of Ravelfs Pictures at an ExhibitioncccChitose Okashiro is a formidable pianist
ccTo my utter astonishment, I was completely bowled over by it.

Not recommended.         


3rd movement


3rd movement

cthere are lashings of rumbustious rubato and hair-raising hairpins that should bring tears of mirth to the eyes of even the most hardened Mahler purists. cII and III are fair representations of the orchestral score


4th movement


4th movement

she finds something that to the best of my knowledge no conductor has found nor, I suspect, would dare to find: bedlam! Rarely, if ever, has that "heart" been so "sorely wounded". Of all the passages that have given me pause for thought, this one, more than any, vindicates Okashirofs claim that there are some things that the "target instrument" of an arrangement can, in some way, do "better" than the original scoringcPretty well all the notes you hear are recognisably from Mahlerfs hand, and I get the feeling that Okashirofs arrangement has somehow - and incredibly - hung on to most of them! In so doing, she has set herself a very considerable virtuosic challenge, which by the sound of it has brought her right up against the stops of her present capabilities. My guess is that the sheer block-busting effort involved, allied to the nature of the piano, is what produces this palpable sense of tempestuous chaos. Whatfs more, therefs no sense of Lisztian showmanship here, just red-raw, blood-curdling musicianship. In IV, in pages of heavy instrumental scoring, the piano version is sheer cacophony. Some familiar thenes are so buried in the din they are unrecognizable. The end of the symphony is so noisy and chaotic that the smart, two-note sudden ending is unheard and, in fact, seems missing.


As Mr. Spock might have said, "This is Mahlerfs First, Jim, but not Mahlerfs First as we know it." The lady is right, it does indeed make you think again, and think carefully about what the music is "about". Moreover, the revelations are not limited to the substance of the arrangement, but often emerge from the style of the interpretation. Ifm thinking particularly about her highly elastic phrasing, a required characteristic of Mahlerfs music that is so rarely given enough air to breathe or worse inappropriately applied by many conductors. Chitose Okashirofs arrangement - and her breathtaking performance - make you realise, in contradistinction to his long-held reputation as a bit of a "wild child", just how refined a composer was Gustav Mahler. It seems to me that both my questions have been answered in the affirmative.


A solo player cannot duplicate that magical opening, so she simply ignores the passage. After hitting one rogue low note, she continues with the falling two-note phrase at bar 3. That is a considerable loss. Moments later, instead of Mahlerfs imaginative and original pp fanfare in the clarinets, there are high, irritating, clangorous piano notes. For the atmospheric trumpet fanfare, we have even more jarring, gin-your-faceh piano bangings.

tama01.gif From an interview for Fanfare magazine July/Aug issue
Your Mahler has a very elastic sense of pacing, complete with "luftpausen," such as Bruno Walter might have used. What are your influences?
  - I heard many CDs by many conductors upon playing this transcription. Of course, I admire Bruno Walter, Horenstein's interpretation inspired me, too. Originally, I was going to make recording of Bruno Walter's 4 hands version as it is, and actually had a rehearsal once with my partner. During the rehearsal however, I felt unsatisfied with his 4 hands piano  writing because Walter was a genius of conducting his army, orchestra, but it was obvious that his acknowledge on piano instrument was not so ample. So, I went back to Mahler's original score, marveled his genius of orchestration. I wanted to portray Mahler's essence after whose magical orchestration is removed. It contains the very provocative questions, what the orchestration is, what the "being pianistic" means, and moreover, what the relationship between music itself and its implement in a sense which makes music aural as actual sound. The original Mahler's score writing is for an archestra, not related to a piano instrument at all. If I define the meaning of "being pianistic" as "being economical on the keyboard", this transcription would not "be pianistic nor economical" at all. What I wanted to accomplish by this CD is, to prove how I can make even nonpianistic material sound pianistic by conquering its various unique technical difficulty, and how I can speak of the kernel of Mahler's music and spirit not depending on his idiom, orchestration. For example, there is one place where first violin and second violin are doing totally the opposite at the same time, crescendo and decrescendo in only one note. It is impossible to depict it as imitation by piano, however, the expression and the purpose, why Mahler had to write so, is very possible. To solve these questions is a key to play transcription.

tama01.gif From Mahler CD linernote : gAn Interview with Chitose Okashiroh    
Artur Schnabel was clear about his dislike of Transcription, and his distinctly gphysicalh discomfort at   hearing a work played on an instrument for which it was not originally intended.  How would you go about addressing such a basic disclaimer? Even today, there still presides some negative opinion for the genre of  transcription, almost as a taboo. What is your response to that? 
  - I think this comes from the idea of transcription only as a form of imitation or the reproduction of an original. Some say there is no need of a piano version when we can hear the original. Each transcription has a different kind of purpose and difficulty.  Piano transcriptions were frequently composed by virtuoso pianists during the age of Romanticism to effectively show off their skills on stage. Horowitzfs Carmen Fantasy is a good example. Liszt transcribed Beethoven symphonies and Wagner too. His aim was probably also to introduce many orchestral masterpieces to audiences in the provinces who had no chance to hear live performances by orchestra. Then, as a backlash to Romanticism, people like Schnabel, who saw performance as a faithful reproduction of the written score, were extremely against transcriptions. Right now, it looks like transcriptions are once again being recognized, despite the fact this taboo opinion still exists. There are Bruckner organ transcriptions, Chopin guitar transcriptions, etc.  The important thing, as Horowitz said, is to seek the vision behind the black and white notes. It is here, I would say, where the ultimate meaning of transcription lies.

You yourself transcribed gTitanh based on Bruno Walterfs 4-hand version (while you used extant scores for the former releases). How did you find Walterfs transcription and what did you focus on in developing it?                - Well, that Maestro Bruno Walter was among Mahlerfs most prominent proteges is widely known. However, it is not common knowledge that Walter transcribed Mahlerfs first and second symphonies for 4-hands piano; neither the purpose of the transcriptions nor the time he took to complete them is any big mystery. Both transcriptions were published by Universal Edition, and upon examining the scores, one can easily guess that they were primarily done for the amusement of amateur pianists, probably for home concerts or party occasions, not for professional concerts; there are so many places where Walter intentionally and clearly strived simply to make it easy to play. To bring out the vivid fullness of this music at the keyboard, though, one must address many issues in the original orchestral score. Just as one example, at the beginning of the first movement, there is an ostinato of gA,h for 56 measures by strings before the theme enters with the cellos. As you know, the sound of the piano decays rapidly after you hit the note. The structure of the instrument, how it makes sound, is based on the fact that the hammer strikes a string, unlike instruments of the violin family, which can resonate with the bow stroke. So, I had to face this huge problem at the very beginning of my transcription work. Bruno Walter solved it by simply having two players hit gAh repeatedly for 56 measures so that it sustains. However, you soon discover that it is almost impossible to create this mysterious atmosphere (the important introduction to this symphony) by playing gAh repeatedly. Bruno Walter was a great conductor, he knew how to operate his army, the orchestra, to create what he wanted. His idea of Mahler in transcription is not based upon the piano instrument, though, so I needed to solve these problems by making it sounds gpianistic.h Then, the obvious question arises: what does gpianistich mean? Why does Mahler have to be pianistic? The key is not trying to keep all the notes as written in the score, but trying to re-create Mahlerfs fundamental thought and render it on the piano by solving the riddle of why these notes; what is behind them; what is the purpose of all of his notations in the score; why he had to write this piece, etc. This, of course, is exactly the same step we take when we play anything as a performer. But to transcribe a familiar masterpiece and to perform it then, can be an ultimate, radical and new kind of performance action. It is not the substitute or mediocre imitation of the original. The purpose of the transcription has to serve the same as the original, just in a different form. Being gpianistich is a way to produce the best results to serve this purpose. The only difference is the gmeans.h If the means are different, sometimes you can see things clearly through a different angle.