La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No 10 (Cooke Version)

BBC Philharmonic; Gianandrea Noseda, dir.
Chandos CHAN 10456 (78 min 24 s)
***** $$$$

The BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda has never committed an indifferent performance to disc for Chandos and the present issue is no exception. Mahler's Tenth in the performing version by Deryck Cooke now occupies a secure space in the symphonic landscape and the addition of this account from Manchester is very welcome. Noseda's objective interpretation is similar to those of Kurt Sanderling (1978 - Berlin Classics) and Micahel Gielen (2005 - Hännsler). His escalation of the tension in the opening Adagio is subtle and this ultimately magnifies the effect of the eruption of dissonance later (17:15) in the movement. The performance features loving tenderness at all of the right moments without descending into maudlin exaggeration. The orchestra plays with wholehearted dedication as Noseda draws out moving string tone and immaculate wind passages. In this demanding field of endeavour, which received the best efforts of Eugene Ormandy, Sir Simon Rattle (twice), Riccardo Chailly and Eliahu Inbal (as well as Sanderling and Gielen), Noseda's performance can be regarded as distinctive and distinguished.

The participation of David Matthews in the recording is of great importance. In the authoritative booklet note, Matthews relates how he and his brother Colin became involved in Cooke’s revision of his first amended draft of the score. Youthful enthusiasts, the Matthews boys worked along with Cooke over a period of twelve years until the publication of "the final revision" in 1976.

On the Absolute Necessity for Mahler’s Tenth: Michael Steinberg put it this way: "Having a Mahler Tenth adds a great human and musical experience to our lives...Knowing this music also alters our perception of Mahler’s life work." Distinguished Mahlerians who could never accept this included Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink. Late in life, Sir Georg Solti was studying all of the available performing versions to devise a conflation or best solution in order to record a hybrid Tenth. In addition to the Cooke version, the work has been undertaken by Joe Wheeler, Clinton Carpenter, Remo Mazzetti Jr. and Rudolf Barshai and all have been recorded. While Cooke has gained the most adherents, each version adds to the sum of our knowledge about the symphony.

There has been wide speculation about the prophetic nature of the music of Gustav Mahler, particularly the Sixth Symphony. This is illusory. We merely had to endure two-thirds of the most violent century in history to align human experience with the scope and articulation of Mahler’s musical expression. But just as the Sixth could be construed as heralding the world wars, the Tenth can evoke the range of emotions experienced on and after September 11, 2001. Horror, rage, fear, grief and, ultimately, consolation in immortal love all leap from the pages of the score. There is even a ghostly connection between the music and those terrible events. The muffled drum strokes which close the fourth movement and continue into the fifth were inspired by the funeral procession of a New York City fire captain who had been killed on duty. Mahler observed this ceremony and was deeply moved by it. Symphony No. 9 had an element of what Dylan Thomas related: "Though wise men, at the end, know dark is right." Mahler, with the Tenth completed the stanza: "(They) do not go gentle into that good night."

Wait for it...The Last Word is at Hand: The Ides of March will be an auspicious date for English-speaking admirers of the composer this year. On that day, Gustav Mahler: Volume 4: A New Life Cut Short 1907-1911 by Henry-Louis de La Grange will be published. This is not simply a translation from the original French, but a full revision to take in the most recent revelations about the subject and the latest scholarly research into his music. It will certainly offer the most extensive analysis of the Tenth Symphony to date. Hopefully, Oxford University Press will get around to republishing the revised first volume in time for the Mahler centennial in 2011.

-Stephen Habington

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