Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (CD review)

Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 7243 5 56972 2 6.

Controversy continues to swirl around Mahler's final, uncompleted Tenth Symphony, largely because of musical scholars trying to guess what the composer might have done with it had he lived long enough to finish it. Mahler did most of the score for his Tenth during the summer of 1910, leaving a complete skeleton of the piece before he died in 1911. He himself spoke of it as "a work fully prepared in the sketch." But a sketch is not a fully realized composition, and he would have probably done a good deal of revision before its premiere.

Whatever, Deryck Cooke prepared the performing edition of Mahler's draft used by Sir Simon Rattle on this disc, an edition Cooke did in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews, and David Matthews. EMI recorded the production live in 1999, and Warner Classics are now distributing it.

Under Maestro Rattle, the Tenth appears more a direct kin or continuation of the Ninth than ever. It begins in the same slow, eloquent, mystic way of the Ninth, then bursts into quintessential Mahler strife, its energy spent dying off into a long, pensive close. The second and fourth movements are typically bizarre Mahler Scherzos, sounding vaguely familiar yet distant. The brief, middle movement is reminiscent of the Fourth Symphony, and the Finale, starting with some mysterious drum strokes moves into a languorous melody, concluding with a great murmur of relief. The whole thing can seem at first glance like a distillation of all of Mahler's past symphonic heartaches, and there is no denying it is largely a solemn affair.

Sir Simon Rattle
Sir Simon Rattle recorded the work once before for EMI in the early Eighties with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This newer interpretation has the advantage of Rattle's added maturity, and in a side-by-side comparison, the Berlin effort appears the slightly better bet. The conductor takes the slow movements a shade more leisurely, giving Mahler's sublime dramatic moments more time to breathe, and the scherzos are more intense than ever. Interestingly, while the overall timing of the new rendition is over a minute and a half longer, it fits snugly on a single disc. With the older version, released at the very beginning of the CD era, EMI spread it out over two discs and added the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet No. 1 as a coupling.

Producer Stephen Johns and engineer Mike Clements recorded the music live at the Philarmonie, Berlin in September 1999, a composite of several evenings' recordings. It is brighter and sharper at the high end than the older Bournemouth recording, and even though the audience is fairly quiet, there are noticeable instances of wheezing and breathing, perhaps from Rattle himself. EMI thankfully edited out any applause. One cannot doubt the orchestra is always a delight to hear, but the sound will not strike everyone as an improvement over the older disc.

For new-time buyers of the Tenth, this newer Rattle realization is a good choice. For those who already have a Tenth, especially Rattle's own earlier one, all things considered, the differences between those and this new one may not seem worth the expense. Still, there is no questioning that Rattle knows his Mahler, and the glamour and allure of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic prove hard to resist.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


No comments:

Post a Comment

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa