This performance of Mahler’s unfinished ‘Tenth’ Symphony under Russell
Keable, and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, used the performing version
of Mahler's draft, prepared by Deryck Cooke, with, according to the
conductor, some differences:
‘I made a number of additions
and deletions drawing partially on Joe Wheeler and Remo Mazzetti versions;
and in a couple of places (which I find embarrassingly thin in the Cooke
realisation) composing my own Mahler
Most conductors tinker a bit
(with all four of the different versions, even the highly interventionist
Clinton Carpenter edition) and I found great inspiration in the convincing
retouches of Kurt Sanderling (in his 1979 Berlin Symphony Orchestra
recording)’ (email to author, 18th March 2003)
In 1960, the year marking Mahler’s centenary, Cooke
prepared a broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on the 19th
of December of the first, third and fifth movements in full, with fragments
taken from the two Scherzi. Later Alma Mahler listened to a tape
of the 1960 broadcast and Cooke related that she ‘was moved to tears
by the music and confessed that she had not realised ‘how much Mahler
there was in it.’ After listening to the tape Alma Mahler wrote to Cooke
in May 1963: ‘I was so moved by this performance that I immediately
asked Mr. Byrns to play the work a second time. I then realised that
the time had come when I must reconsider my previous decision not to
permit the performance of this work. I have decided, once and for all,
to give you full permission to go ahead with performances in any part
of the world…’ After Alma died her daughter discovered another 44 pages
of sketches and short-score which Cooke was able to insert in time for
Goldschmidt’s first complete performance at the Proms, with the LSO,
on the 13th August 1964.
The Kensington Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1956
by Leslie Head to provide students and amateurs in London with the possibility
to take part in orchestral concerts, has high standards of playing and
their performance of this work was certainly on a par with established,
professional London symphony orchestras. Composer-lecturer-conductor
Russell Keable has a reputation for being a champion of Erich Korngold’s
music, having given a concert version of Korngold’s opera Violanta
(composed when Korngold was only 17) at the QEH, as well as the
British premier of Die tote Stadt in 1995-1996. On this showing
he is equally sympathetic in Mahler.
The KSO produced a stunning ‘Mahler sound’ - raucous,
rugged, grainy and angular, giving this fragmented torso of a score
great weight. I heard Simon Rattle conduct a different kind of performance
of the Mahler ‘Tenth’ with the Philharmonia Orchestra at a 1980s Prom
concert - smooth, streamlined and homogenised, the antithesis of Keable’s
poignant performance, which teetered on the brink of nervous hysteria.
Keable’s account was superior in its penetration of Mahlerian anxiety,
something not always achieved in recordings of the work.
The first movement, Adagio: Andante – Adagio (fully
scored by Mahler himself), unfolded with grace, with Keable and his
orchestra in total rapport: his beat was clear and razor sharp and his
tempi were perfectly judged: the music flowed organically, without manneristic
gear-shifts, seeing the Adagio as an arch-like structure, and
producing intimate chamber-like textures. The movement’s central climax
burst into flame with its piercing long held trumpet note. This shrieking
sound was delivered with a menacing intensity rarely experienced: it
was pure terror, life staring death in the face. The second movement,
Scherzo: Schnelle Viertel, was performed with great swagger and
rhythmic lilt with the horns especially brazen and incisive.
The Allegreto Moderatto is the pivotal point
of the symphony - lodged between two scherzi which, in turn, are flanked
by two large slow movements. Mahler originally titled this movement
Purgatorio or Inferno (but later deleted these titles)
and the composer actually scored half of it. Under Keable it certainly
sounded echt-Mahler, reminding one of the sinister Scherzo
of Mahler’s 7th Symphony. There was some very expressive
and pointed woodwind playing with conductor in complete command of the
angular wild expressionism inherent in this dark music.
The Scherzo Allegro pesante, Nicht zu schnell,
veered towards explosive hysteria with the conductor encouraging manic
playing, totally in keeping with the ethos of this demonic music: even
when the full orchestra were playing one could hear all the intricate
woodwind passages. The Finale: Einleitung, Langsam, schwer – Allegro
moderato – Andante, opened with dry, ominous ‘death knell’ hammer
blow followed by threatening sounds from bass tuba and horns, executed
with a menacing assurance.
The mood slowly switched to a melancholic swan song
of resignation in the form of a sublimely phrased flute solo. As the
movement progressed, the strings took on a serene sound, becoming darker
and grainier than before; this was especially so with the ‘cellos and
double basses which had a rugged darkness of tone. As the music progressed
the strings became even more tenebrous, slowly melting into nothingness.
Throughout this penetrating and powerful performance,
Keable had the KSO and audience transfixed: his conducting was hypnotic,
his presence magnetic.
This massive work, demanding huge forces, clearly demonstrated
the superb SJSS crystalline acoustic, which allowed the intricately
layered orchestral textures to shine through with great clarity and
perfect audibility, even during the numerous tutti passages.
To become a friend of the orchestra you can e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for further information contact their website at: www.kso.org.uk