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alternatively Crotchet

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.10 (Deryck Cooke version) (1911) [77:26]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 24-25 September 1999, Philharmonie, Berlin. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 5034202 [77:26]

Aside from the deceptively restful cover art I have no hesitation in recommending this recording.

This recording originally appeared and is still available on EMI 5569722. Tony Duggan’s review covers a number of details regarding Rattle’s approach to the Deryck Cooke performing version of Mahler’s draft. MusicWeb-International has covered many versions of this work, and includes an invaluable recordings overview by Tony Duggan, in which this recording of the Cooke version still comes out on top, or at least did at the time of writing. With the alternative recordings available, this one has clung on to the support of the Gramophone and Penguin Classical CD guides. It is here re-released as a top recommendation for this work with the picture of Sir Simon replaced by an improbably bland detail from an anonymous watercolour. Artistically-aware readers may like to help out by identifying the artist and pointing out the work’s suitability for this disc. I like a bit of aerial perspective myself, but can think of a good few more stimulating images.
I’ve burrowed around in the darker corners of my collection and re-discovered my 3 LP set of this work recorded live on 13th June 1975 with the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague, released as a memorial for Jean Martinon in 1976. This is unavailable on CD as far as I know, and other than for historical interest is not really comparable with Rattle. Riccardo Chailly’s version of this piece came out in the same year as Rattle’s Berlin CD and also received multiple plaudits, but my principal reference has been the second edition of the Deryck Cooke Performing Version score published by AMP/Faber, and Simon Rattle’s 1980 recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which I have on the original box no. 7 47301 8 which spread the symphony over two discs and includes the Schoenberg orchestration of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1. The Symphony No.10 is now available as a single disc on the budget Classics for Pleasure label and is still highly recommendable.
Reference to the score only shows how little the recordings differ from Cooke’s original thoughts, and aside from picking out a few well-known alterations such as the omission of the first sf drum thwack at the beginning of the final movement – thwacks which are incidentally far more striking in the Bournemouth recording, pun not intended – there is little of note to report. The 2007 Gramophone Good CD Guide has a fun typo over the pages which include this piece, listing it as ‘Mahler Orchetsral’ which isn’t quite as funny as ‘Orckestral’ which could stand for the two birds on the front of this new release. The guide does accurately point out that the early Bournemouth recording ‘helped win over a sceptical public when we were much less keen to tamper with the unfinished works of dead or dying artists.’ I and others still rate the Bournemouth version as a fine early digital recording, and while the orchestra has a few more rough edges here and there the performance for me has in many places more verve and passion than the more recent Berlin Philharmonic recording. Rattle takes a slightly broader view of the first movement, timings comparing at 23:54 for Bournemouth, and 25:11 for Berlin, but the other movements are as good as identical, which is further evidence of Rattle’s consistent view of this remarkable and troubled work. Climactic moments are given the full works here, and provide genuine emotional impact. That nightmare chord at 18:13 in the first movement is particularly frightening, especially after the seeming triumph over everything at 17:28. As a reference these moments come in at a more sudden 16:46 and slightly less frightening 17.27 from the Bournemouth SO. The wilder Scherzo movements in the rest of the symphony are performed with higher technical aplomb in Berlin as one might expect, and with notably better strings and all the advantages of one of the finest orchestras on the planet this particular racehorse was never going to come in second.
This recording is a compilation from two live performances which Rattle gave as a celebration on the beginning of his tenure with the Berlin Phil., having won the post over Daniel Barenboim in an orchestral vote. There is virtually no audience noise, and indeed the principal extra-musical noises are from Rattle himself, as he grunts through some passages, sometimes being caught even when the orchestra is in almost full flow. This is a minor point and possibly only a distraction to serious headphone users such as myself. It certainly doesn’t outweigh the advantages in vibrancy that such a live recording can bring. The Guildhall in Southampton, the location for the Bournemouth SO recording is not without its background rumble of traffic either, so in terms of extra noise honours are about equal. In terms of recorded perspective the Berlin orchestra is miked closer, providing stunning detail and an intimate acquaintance with usually more obscure instruments such as the bass clarinet. There is however less sense of space: an advantage which gives the earlier recording a greater; or different sense of atmosphere in places.
Not having the original release to hand I suspect but can’t confirm that the concise but useful booklet notes by Colin Matthews are unchanged. The arguments against taking this work as a serious part of the Mahler catalogue have surely long been dismissed, and while we can only imagine what the composer himself would have done to improve, clarify and iron out what have to be described as flawed or inchoate moments in this symphony, there are few today who would deny us this dramatic final utterance of one of the 19th and 20th centuries’ most influential composers. Aside from the deceptively restful cover art on this re-release I have no intention of going against the tide of respected critical opinion, and therefore offer no hesitation in recommending this recording to those looking for the best from this incredible rescued masterpiece.
Dominy Clements


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