ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10


GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 10 - Deryck Cooke Performing Version - Berthold Goldschmidt (Conductor) - London Symphony Orchestra - 3-CD Set - 749677145729 - Released: March 2011 - Testament SBT3-1457

An absolutely indispensable document for all serious Gustav Mahler fans and collectors. A specially priced 3-CD set that brings together hitherto separate elements, some of which unavailable until now, into one cohesive package. The first CD contains Deryck Cooke's illustrated talk, broadcast on the BBC 3 Programme on December 19th 1960, in which he discusses Mahler's final, unfinished symphony and explains, with many music examples, the nature of his work on the draft. The second CD is a studio performance of Cooke's incomplete first version, also broadcast on the BBC 3 Programme on the same day, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt. The third CD presents the live, première performance of Cooke's full-length completed performing version, recorded on August 13th 1964 at the Royal Albert Hall, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt.

Although rather formal and inanimate in its delivery, the lecture on disc 1 is packed with 38 music examples, some performed on the piano by Cooke himself and some with full orchestra, that go a long way into shedding light on the basic structure of the work as seen from Mahler's perspective. The orchestral segments in particular, well demonstrate the decisions behind Cooke's added orchestration, choice of instruments and added harmony, all based on the material found in Mahler's draft. These examples are laid out in such a way as to help us better understand the many different thematic links between movements, and therefore obtain a much better grasp on the work's development from start to finish.

The first broadcast, which took place in 1960 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mahler's birth, was a BBC radio presentation of the incomplete first version, the bulk of it in Cooke's orchestration. The conductor of that première was Berthold Goldschmidt, himself an accomplished composer, who had collaborated with Cooke on certain aspects of the score. Only the second and fourth movements were performed incomplete, with only a few minutes of omitted segments where the orchestration was not quite polished yet. Otherwise it is pretty much a full rendition of the whole symphony, with Cooke himself introducing and explaining each movement as the evening progressed. And aside from a few exaggerations in tempo or dynamics, it is certainly a gripping performance, one in which you can feel the sense of discovery as the music unfolds.

Just before Alma Mahler died in December 1964, 40 pages of sketches for the second movement of the symphony were discovered in her papers. Deryck Cooke, who at the time was still working on final orchestration details, incorporated the bulk of these sketches into his final complete version, which saw its première in August of that year. And this is the performance recorded on the third CD in this release. Only four years had passed since the original broadcast, but already a much deeper understanding of the emotional character of the symphony is present in the performance. The final movement in particular is heart-wrenching in its passionate outlook. That wonderful string-supported flute melody at the beginning is simply breathtaking. The whole movement is played with that perfect blend of meticulous care and emotional abandon. Cooke did make some slight changes to the score leading up to its publication in 1975, but for all intents and purposes, this performance is of the work as we know it today. This new release, in 2011, coincides with the 100th anniversary of Mahler's death, and makes its appearance that more important, and especially more touching. Based on the year of this recording, it should have been done in stereo, but for some reason it was recorded in mono. Testament have done a great remastering job which brings the quality of the sound up to today's standards.

Those of you, who like certain conductors, only accept the first movement of this great symphony as being completed by Mahler, and would rather do without the rest of it, here are a few words by Deryck Cooke himself that might make you reconsider those feelings. "The only valid question is this: given that there can never be any such thing as Mahler's own final, definitive score of his Tenth Symphony, does his fairly comprehensive sketch of it, put into score by other hands, provide a Mahlerian experience of any real value? My own belief is that it does, simply because Mahler's actual music, even in its unrevised and unelaborated state, has such strength and beauty that it dwarfs into insignificance the few momentary uncertainties about notes and the subsidiary additions, and even survives being presented in conjectural orchestration. After all, the leading thematic line throughout, and something like ninety percent of the counterpoint and harmony, are pure Mahler, and vintage Mahler at that."

Jean-Yves Duperron - March 2011