MAHLER: Symphony No.10
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir
EMI CDC 5 56972 2 [77'26"]
Simon Rattle has performed this score more times than any other conductor.
In many ways it's become his signature work. So it's appropriate it turned
out to be this that he conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic in his first
appearance with them after being named their Chief Conductor, and also for
EMI to record both performances from last year's Berlin Festival to use for
this issue. But I can't help feeling sympathy for the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra who performed it under him many times and helped refine
what his first recording of the work - with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
also for EMI - showed what was already an almost complete grasp of the piece.
Something tells me that a CBSO recording played in a venue known better to
the EMI engineers than the Philharmonie in Berlin would have been
near-definitive, certainly as regards Rattle's own interpretation. But that
is not now to be.
This is not the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of playing any of
the performing versions of the symphony Mahler left uncompleted at his death.
As well as Deryck Cooke, Clinton Carpenter, Joe Wheeler and Remo Mazzetti
Jnr have all entered the field and there's rumoured to be another in the
works from a well-known conductor. If you are morally opposed to any of these
enterprises you will not be interested in what follows. For myself I believe
we are better off knowing what Mahler left behind than not, and this, rather
than in any way trying to "complete" Mahler's work, is to a greater or lesser
extent what Deryck Cooke and the others were in the business of doing. The
edition used here is the third and final version of the Cooke with a change
or two made by Rattle himself, but more of that later. The Cooke version
will probably always remain the most performed of the performing editions,
though I would make a strong case for Joe Wheeler's which can be heard in
a "live" recording taken from the 1997 Colorado Mahlerfest, and is available
from their web site, conducted by Robert Olson who will soon be recording
the Wheeler score again for Naxos.
Rattle sees the first movement Adagio in one breath, an arch-like structure,
evidence of his familiarity and conviction. The opening figure on violas
is very spare-sounding and then the adagio proper presents us with a cultured
string tone. This is something of a disappointment, let me say. Comparison
with the earlier Bournemouth recording shows more bloom and rapture in their
strings in a recording which, in sound terms, is generally more atmospheric.
Evidence of EMI's comparative unfamiliarity with the present venue, perhaps
? Also here in Berlin Rattle appears not to have divided his violins left
and right as he usually does. I wonder what lay behind that decision. In
the Development section, however, the excellence of the Berliners' playing
is clear. The woodwind contributions, for example, are especially fine in
music where Mahler's chamber-like textures are explored in detail and where
only the best players will therefore do. What we hear then is an excellent
delivery of an aspect of Mahler's later style - sparer and less rich than
earlier - and the Berliners duly respond. In the movement's (and the work's)
central crisis, where a searing brass chorale is followed by a long-held
high note on a solo trumpet, notice the organ-like quality of the massed
brass and then the refining fire Rattle charges into the music with the high
violins throwing an arc of fire over the landscape. In the aftermath Rattle
splendidly conveys the feeling of stoically carrying on in spite of the terror
just experienced. Nowhere does Rattle really let the music rest. Always there
is the undercurrent that the holding on is finger-tip thin.
One of the most striking aspects of the second movement, the first of the
work's two scherzos, is the frequent metrical changes that carry to a logical
extreme similar metrical changes in the Sixth Symphony's scherzo. In this,
as in other aspects of this work, Mahler places himself among the new music
of the century that was exploding all around him but here allowing it to
illustrate his own troubled state of mind. After all, what is being mapped
in this work is Mahler's own state of mind under the pressure from his
tempestuous marriage, at that time under the greatest strain of its short
life. Exclamations of his torment litter the score pages as proof of this,
remember. This music holds no fears for the Berliners and Rattle seems to
revel in throwing every challenge at them and hearing them respond with sure
precision. He strides forward too, pressing on in a way I don't think he
quite did in Bournemouth. The sharp, analytical recording means we hear
everything also. However, as in the first movement, the atmosphere in the
Bournemouth recording is missing, though the sound palette does suit the
performance of this movement well. The tiny Purgatorio third movement that
now follows is light and airy without some of the character of the Bournemouth
playing and does expose the lighter bass end of this sound picture. I mention
this because I notice it, but don't let it be a determining factor in whether
you buy this excellent recording or not. In the second of the two Berlin
performances there was a bad error by the orchestra which suggests they were
never quite inside the peculiar nature of this movement
In the second Scherzo Rattle understands perfectly that this is a conflict
piece, again a map of Mahler's state of mind, contrasting demonic scherzo
material with happy waltz: pulling one way, then another, setting up an inner
dynamic. Notice the volatility Rattle causes to come over the music as the
dark coda approaches. Here I really do miss Joe Wheeler's solution to what
has always been, to me, a weaker section of Cooke's score.
The end of the movement is marked by a single stroke on a large military
drum, inspired by the sight and sound of a fireman's funeral in the street
outside Mahler's New York hotel in 1910, but coming to mean far more than
that to Mahler. In Rattle's Bournemouth recording this "percussion event"
(to quote Thomas Ades) and its subsequent repetition in the last movement
was too loud: a cannonade against which the listener had to steal themselves
and surely not what Mahler had in mind. Here in Berlin Rattle has reined
back the sound and what we hear is much more a part of the texture and for
that change I praise him. Another stroke on the drum should open the last
movement but Rattle always cuts this so as not to make any break between
the last two movements.
I've always been uneasy with Cooke's solution to the ascending figure that
opens the movement. Played on the bass tuba it sounds too much like Fafner
the dragon stirring in Wagner's Ring. Wheeler's string bass solution is surely
more Mahlerian. That apart, Rattle's climb out from the pit of despair to
a melody on the solo flute that moves and impresses with each subsequent
hearing is more chaste and rapt than in Bournemouth. There is also some superb
string playing, the Berliners delivering rapt pianissimo. In the movement's
central crisis, a reprise of the central crisis from the first movement,
we come to another of Rattle's changes. At two points he reinforces with
extra percussion to ram home climactic power. You can argue that the whole
point of such a return of this crisis material is that it is and should sound
the same. But then Mahler seldom repeated himself and might have added such
an extra weight to the sound had he lived. There is a lot to the Tenth that
is a clutch of "might have beens" so there must be some latitude allowed
for, I suppose. On the whole, I prefer the passage without the extra percussion,
but make up your own minds.
The coda is one of the most consoling and profound passages in all Mahler.
All of the editors rise to the occasion, perhaps compelled by the shade of
Gustav Mahler himself to deliver what he surely meant us to hear. The playing
of the Berlin orchestra under Rattle is here a model of poise. Again, I miss
the bloom on the strings we heard in Bournemouth but that was more the result
of acoustic and balance than of a superior orchestra, I think. The Bournemouth
Orchestra played well but the Berliners have a greater, more complete grasp
on the music in the end, and Rattle too has moved on. He is here, as always,
a compelling guide to this work and the Berliners are now clearly his to
command. His total identification with this score is remarkable and this
new recording will be first choice for many. However, for the Cooke version
I would also not wish to be without Mark Wigglesworth and the BBC National
Orchestra of Wales whose "live" performance can be found on an old BBC Magazine
cover disc, or Wyn Morris's first ever recording of the second Cooke edition,
newly re-issued on Phillips. Remo Mazzetti's first version I find far too
fussy and finicky and Leonard Slatkin, who conducts the RCA recording of
it, has no Mahler style to speak of. The only recording of the, even more
fussy, Clinton Carpenter version is hard to find and unremarkably performed.
But the fascinating Joe Wheeler score will soon become even more widely available
and I look forward to that. Maybe we can persuade Rattle to record that too.
and Colin Anderson adds:-
Given the number of Mahler conductors who do not conduct the whole of No.10,
a performance or recording of it remains an event. Rattle's second recording
emanates from two live performances given last September in Berlin's
Philharmonie. There is little trace of an audience except in the positive
sense of it concentrating on rather special music-making.
These concerts took place shortly after Rattle had been confirmed as the
Berlin Philharmonic's next Music Director (from 2002). This news, the rarity
of playing this Symphony and the stimulus of playing it for someone who knows
it so intimately have combined for a richly intense rendition. I must get
my one gripe out of the way now. I'm surprised and disappointed that Rattle
does not use antiphonal violins - which tends to be his preference anyway.
Such an arrangement would have opened up the sound picture - as it does,
in this Symphony, in Mark Wigglesworth's interpretation issued as the cover
CD for Volume II/Number 12 of the BBC Music Magazine (in 1994). But that
recording, just like the wonderful Jean Martinon/Chicago SO taping, isn't
generally available (the Martinon's in a big set available only from the
CSO). No easier to find is Kurt Sanderling's Berlin Classics version which
I bought just a few months ago second-hand.
All these conductors use one or other of Deryck Cooke's Performing Versions.
There have been other attempts to `complete' Mahler 10. Two Americans, Remo
Mazzetti and Clinton Carpenter, have done so (respectively recorded by Leonard
Slatkin and Harold Farberman). (Mazzetti has now withdrawn his attempt but
a new version from him is expected soon.) But Cooke did enough to make Mahler's
music performable and Rattle (rightly) remains with him for his second recording
(making emendations of his own to a score also influenced by Berthold Goldschmidt
- who conducted the first performance of Cooke 1 in the 'sixties - and Colin
and David Matthews).
Eugene Ormandy made the very first recording (CBS now Sony) and I remember
being totally convinced by the five movements - they all sounded like Mahler!
While wondering if Philips will ever put Wyn Morris's first recording of
Cooke 2 on CD, Rattle's new version competes with his own Bournemouth SO
taping [also EMI], Chailly's [Decca] and Slatkin's of the Mazzetti [RCA].
I wouldn't want to be without any of the recordings I've mentioned, but Rattle
brings a special identification, a total belief, to this music that answers
any doubts there might be about performing this unfinished symphony.
To experienced Mahler 10 listeners, I don't think Rattle necessarily brings
an interpretation radically different to others (or that he has changed
dramatically from his earlier self). He does though bring a profound
understanding, and love, to this music, and conducts without apology for
Mahler 10 existing. He has inspired the BPO to some wonderful playing -
particularly fine solo wind and brass playing - in which the orchestra seem
totally committed by the music and one senses all the players have really
understood their individual roles in the enterprise.
This is a performance where every accent, trill and instrumental interjection
means something. The beauty and sheen of the strings, the beautiful flute-playing
in one of Mahler's longest and most poignant melodies [5: 2'13"-3'42"], Rattle's
control of the multi-tempo second movement, and his ability to obtain some
magical pianissimos all add up to a special performance. The close, vivid
recording is very fine: the performers' intensity and concentration is palpable.
Rattle's is a 5-star performance because of his unflinching belief in the
music - he knows every contour of it. He's obviously convinced the Berlin
Phil of Mahler 10's worth and anyone looking for a library version now has
it. I shall add Rattle to the others for each has something to say about
music that continues to evolve.
See also Tony Duggan's comparative
reviews of the Mahler Symphonies