Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (CD review)

Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80565. 

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) has been popular among audiophiles since the early days of stereo, and it was Mahler who first filled up the bins in the early days of compact discs. It's no wonder, then, that even his unfinished Tenth Symphony remains competitive today, with two releases of different reconstructions coming out at around the same time from Simon Rattle (EMI) and Jesus Lopez-Cobos in the early 2000's.

At his death Mahler left the Tenth Symphony in various stages of completion. A couple of the work's five movements were finished, and several others the composer left in detailed sketches only. For years, conductors only performed the two completed movements, and some purist conductors today apparently still insist on doing so, but the music as reconstructed by various people in various forms seems to be gaining a new audience. Maestro Jesus Lopez-Cobos uses one of the most-recent revisions, that of Remo Mazetti, Jr. (1997). Lopez-Cobos presents the piece in a fairly gusty and Romantic manner, mostly emphasizing the work's soaring lyricism, as in the first movement, and its bizarre eccentricities, as in the two Scherzos and the introduction to the Finale. Telarc's sound upholds its end, too, with its warm, natural presence.

Jesus Lopez-Cobos
All fine and good had I left well enough alone. But I couldn't resist listening the symphony again, this time comparing it side-by-side with Simon Rattle's account with the Berlin Philharmonic. Comparisons can be devastating. Perhaps it wasn't an entirely fair comparison, either, because Rattle uses the older Deryck Cooke edition and, as I said, Lopez-Cobos uses the newer Mazetti one; still, it was close enough. My conclusion? Next to Rattle, Lopez-Cobos seemed rather earthbound. His interpretation, so lovely on its own, appears straightforward and mundane by comparison to Rattle's. It's like plain vanilla vs. Swiss chocolate swirl. Rattle wrings every ounce of emotion from the score, making one pine and long for the participants, presumably Mahler and his lost love, Alma, whom Mahler had discovered having an affair in his last year.

The sound, too, favors Rattle. While Telarc's sonics are certainly worthwhile, they tend to sound muted, soft, and flat compared to EMI's live recording (which in itself is remarkable, considering that I don't usually care for live recordings). Rattle's orchestra does appear a bit harder and thinner than Lopez-Cobos's, to be sure, but the great Berlin strings more than make up for it. In the end, EMI's sound comes off as more transparent, more dynamic, and, ultimately, more realistic than Telarc's.  Both are good investments, but if one must make a choice, I would recommend one opts for the Rattle.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa