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Gustav MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No.10 in F sharp major
(Revised performing version by Deryck Cooke with further revisions by Kurt Sanderling)
Berlin Sinfonie-Orchester/Kurt Sanderling
rec Berlin 1979
BERLIN CLASSICS 0094422BC [73.46]
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Kurt Sanderling was one of the first conductors to take up the second Deryck Cooke performing version of Mahler's Tenth Symphony after Wyn Morris gave the first performance in 1976. In fact I think he was the most distinguished conductor to adopt a performing version of the Tenth at all. He made his recording in the old East Berlin in 1979 following a year's work on it. For many years it was hard to find, but now Edel have answered the prayers of Mahlerites and remastered it for this new issue on Berlin Classics.

Sanderling famously makes some changes of his own to Cooke's revised score and it can be argued that, with the original material itself in such an "unfinished" state, conductors should be allowed some licence in this matter. Whether you agree with the changes that result is another matter. For myself I find Sanderling's changes fascinating and, in most cases, very apt. They tend to be in matters of shading and dynamics: some slight fillings-out of string lines here, a little extra percussion there. Nothing too drastic but, if you know Cooke's score well, you will notice them. However, an anomaly emerges here. Eberhardt Klemm's fine notes to this release draw our attention to a decision by Sanderling to leave out the first bass drum stroke in the fifth movement and by so doing make the fourth movement, which also ends with a drum stroke, seem to run into the fifth naturally. The only problem is that when you finally come to play the recording you will hear that the opening bass drum stroke in the last movement is included, just as it is in Cooke's published score. Simon Rattle in all his performances and recordings also leaves out the first fifth movement drum stroke and is on record as admiring Sanderling's recording, making some of his changes to the score Sanderling did. However, Rattle could not have learned that change from this recording. He may have heard it from Sanderling himself, or from Berthold Goldschmidt. This is also the place to mention that there appears to be a problem with the master tape's transfer just after that opening drum stroke in the fifth movement. The climbing bass tuba clearly undergoes a momentary wobble at 0'.5" as if the tape is snagged, but then recovers. I have checked the same moment on a 1998 Japanese Deutsche Schallplatten version and the pitch there is perfect. So this is something that has crept into this issue only. It's a tiny blemish, but it's a blemish nevertheless.

In the first movement listen to the expressive quality of the string playing and what appears a well nigh perfect judgement of tempi by Sanderling. The main Adagio contrasting beautifully with that of the opening Andante, for example. I also admire the way Sanderling brings a real emotional peak into what is very nearly a repeat of the Exposition material. In the Development Sanderling is then acutely aware of Mahler's late style with its chamber-like textures and brings with it an undeniable "grieving" quality that is most affecting whilst never compromising the tensile strength of the music's deep structures. The movement's central climax seems embedded into that deep structure whilst it projects outwards and clear from it with every fragment carefully attended to as crucially part of what is around and beneath it. Then in the coda Sanderling maintains a sharpness of vision that too slow and languid a performance of this movement can take us back to the days when this movement was performed alone and needed to be played slower.

In the second movement Mahler takes the ideas of the shifting, changing metres that we encountered in the Sixth Symphony's Scherzo to a further level and I think Sanderling sets an admirable "framework" to encompass this. His approach also brings reminders of the Ninth Symphony's Scherzo. He shows himself the master of all its demands and encourages his orchestra to playing of great character and style. The change of mood that comes in the Trio sections sees some of the slight re-touchings made to the orchestration by Sanderling and, to me, these sound discreet and natural. More importantly in this movement Sanderling conveys a genuine world-weariness. This might not have been what Mahler had in mind but it's impressive for all that. This is also a good movement in which to admire the natural analogue recording that presents few problems whilst not being the equal of Simon Rattle's on EMI (5569722), for example.

Sanderling's account of the short Purgatorio fourth movement shows that he fully realises the importance of this tiny piece in the scheme of things. Then in the fourth movement's Scherzo II the key to what Sanderling seems to be doing is to home in on the juxtaposition of "Danse Macabre" and "Merry Waltz". Here, as ever, Mahler treats his material like the shuffling of a pack of cards and Sanderling is clearly aware of that in the way the kaleidoscope this movement is seems to go past us. As in the second movement, Sanderling's own slight adjustments sound admirably right again and in the winding down towards the drum strokes he is good at the creepy end of the music, the muted brass especially memorable.

As with other recordings of this work, I found Sanderling's drum strokes at the start of the last movement too penetrating for what they are meant to depict. Although, like so much else about this work if we choose to hear it in this form, I suspect this is a question that will never be resolved. But Sanderling is unquestionably trying to convey desolation and despair and succeeds in this. This means that the noble adagio music that climbs out from this pit of despair, led by the solo flute, is more moving and consoling than ever. I was reminded of the arrival of the "Shepherd's Thanksgiving" after the storm in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The quicker conflict material in the centre of the movement, where the work finds some resolution, can catch out the best orchestras, but these Berlin players have clearly been well prepared. Sanderling also adds some extra percussion at the return of the first movement's central climax. You can argue that the whole point of such a return of this crisis material is that it should sound the same as before. That the map of the work's psychology demands the horrible realisation here that, in spite of what we might like to think, we are where we started. On the other hand, Mahler seldom, if ever, repeats himself and might have added extra weight to the sound here had he lived. Again this is question that will go on perplexing us and Sanderling makes a valid point. There is, as we have seen, so much to the Tenth that is a clutch of "might have beens" so there can be some freedom allowed for. On the whole, however, I do prefer the passage without extra percussion but make up your own minds when you hear it like this. Rattle followed Sanderling in adding the percussion but Sanderling appears to add even more, in fact he makes more of a feature of it. There is even the hint of the scaffold from Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique from Sanderling. In the closing pages there is sweetness and serenity but depth of feeling too and a rare life-affirming quality: elegy turns into deliverance which is surely the right attitude to take away and always with that underlying toughness - the bone beneath the skin.

This is a performance that holds its concentration from beginning to end. Sanderling is a direct and highly intelligent Mahlerian who stresses the cerebral over the emotional and that approach suits this score well. His tempi are quicker than they are under some other conductors - Rattle and Morris, for example. The feeling of pressing ahead is always there but never gets in the way and always brings out the spiky, uneven quality of the textures which are sparer in Cooke's version than they are in, for example, Clinton Carpenter's. Sanderling seems to see the work in terms of a looking forward rather than a looking back and so must have found in Cooke's score the right vessel for his ideas. This is Mahler on the verge of new paths rather than looking back on old ones, so is a case of editor and conductor seeming to suit one another down to the ground.

The sound recording is vivid and lively. It's quite a close-in balance with plenty of the inner detail for the playing of the Berlin orchestra that shows plenty of evidence they have been well prepared. It's performances like this that justify the whole enterprise of Deryck Cooke and all the others who have toiled in the field of Tenth Symphony performing editions.

Sanderling's justly famous recording of the Cooke version of the Tenth Symphony is widely available at last. Mahlerites should snap it up without hesitation.

Tony Duggan

Visit Tony Duggan's complete survey of Mahler recordings

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