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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 10 (original performing version by Deryck Cooke)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. Town Hall, Philadelphia, November 1965; remastered using DSD
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 78742-2 [70:15]
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There must be many listeners who, like myself, first heard this work through this recording, and then moved on to other versions. The original disc made a big impression on me musically but the recorded sound on LP was rather poor. Then I heard Rattle - when still in his 20s- perform it live and acquired his Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra version in the early days of CD. More recently, Rattle’s Berlin recording has also found its way into my collection. This latter version was Tony Duggan’s top choice in his survey and the Ormandy recording is covered in some detail there .

Deryck Cooke’s first performing version of the Tenth was premiered in London in 1964 under Goldschmidt and soon afterwards in the USA by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy. This recording dates from the following year, was the first ever made, the only one to use the original edition and it has not previously been issued on CD. Whilst there is little doubt that most of the changes Cooke made in the second version of 1972 are improvements, the historical value of this recording seems undeniable. And the really good news is that the sound is now vivid and immeasurably improved on CD. Indeed there is such presence that it is possible to hear a few things you weren’t meant to. That is not a serious drawback – much more importantly the playing sounds fabulous, particularly in the fabled strings section.

For those used to one of Rattle’s versions, the most obvious difference will be in the tempi for the outer slow movements. In each case Rattle in Berlin was more than 3 minutes slower and, overall, his version takes 7 minutes longer. At the tempi Ormandy adopts, Mahler’s inspiration frequently seems feverish but I have no difficulty with this approach. In terms of instrumentation there are numerous differences but it is surprising how easily the ear can adjust to them. The most striking comes on rehearing a second military drum stroke – one to end the fourth and one to begin the fifth movement. Rattle has always condensed these to a single stroke, effectively linking the two movements. I had erroneously remembered this as a difference between Cooke’s versions but both strokes are in the final version of the score which mentions Rattle’s performance practice in the introduction. Incidentally, even if you are not a person for scores, this one is worth seeking out for it effectively documents the creation of what you are listening to. As the work progresses, Mahler’s four stave original is reproduced at the bottom of the page and the miracle of Cooke’s re-creation comes alive before your eyes.

The last movement of this work represents Mahler’s last musical thoughts and has long seemed to me especially poignant, even in comparison to the conclusion of the Ninth. Ormandy’s approach is to let the music speak for itself and has a simplicity that is very moving. This could never be the last word on Mahler 10 – after all, it was the first! But it is well worth hearing and should surely be on the shelves of anyone who to responds to this endlessly fascinating music.

Patrick C Waller

see also Tony Duggan's review of recordings of Mahler 10


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