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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp
BBC talk by Deryck Cooke. Musical illustrations by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Berthold Goldschmidt and by Deryck Cooke (piano) [102:58]
rec. BBC broadcast, 19 December 1960
Symphony No 10 in F sharp (Full-length performing version by Deryck Cooke (1919-1976)) [72:29]
London Symphony Orchestra/Berthold Goldschmidt
rec. live, 13 August 1964, Royal Albert Hall, London
TESTAMENT SBT31457 [3 CDs: 35:16 + 67:42 + 72:29]

In recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to consider the 1972 recording by Wyn Morris of Deryck Cooke’s performing version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (review). I've also attended a fine live performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the young English conductor, Nicholas Collon (review). As part of my preparation for those assignments I had occasion to revisit this Testament release and to listen to Deryck Cooke’s talk about the work. This three-disc set was issued in 2011 to mark the centenary of Mahler’s death but we do not seem to have reviewed it.

Tony Duggan has written in detail about the Tenth and the reconstruction work that Deryck Cooke – and several others – effected in order to make Mahler’s sketches performable. I will summarise the background briefly. Cooke was heavily involved in the preparation for the BBC’s celebrations of the Mahler centenary in 1960 and this caused him to investigate the sketches of the Tenth that Mahler left on his death. The five movements were in different states of completion. The long first movement was left in draft full score and part of the short third movement was in a similar state with the rest of the movement left in short score and lots of clues as to orchestration. The other three movements existed only in short score or sketch form though a crucial point is that the actual music of the symphony, from beginning to end, had been composed by Mahler prior to his death. In 1924 a facsimile of the manuscript had been published and at the request of Alma Mahler the first and third movements were prepared for performance by the composer, Ernst Křenek. Some performances duly took place. There was a subsequent revision of Křenek’s work by Otto Jokl and a live recording of what is apparently the 1953 premiere of the Jokl edition is available on Music & Arts (review).

One important point to make – and Deryck Cooke readily acknowledged this – was that Mahler would almost certainly have made revisions to the Tenth had he lived to complete it. He regularly did this with his symphonies, especially in the light of his experience of their earliest performances. That said, neither Das Lied von der Erde nor the Ninth Symphony were performed during Mahler’s lifetime. So, though musicians and audiences have always readily accepted those scores we cannot be certain that the composer would not have revised them had he lived to hear them in performance. This issue of revisions was one reason why Cooke never claimed that his work was a completion; rather he always scrupulously referred to it as a performing version.

Notwithstanding all the challenges, Cooke decided to try to make Maher’s sketches performable and the fruits of his work were first heard in a BBC Third Programme broadcast, lasting over 100 minutes, on 19 December 1960. That entire broadcast is preserved here on the first two CDs. On the first disc Cooke talks for over half an hour about the score and his reconstruction work. There are no fewer than 38 musical examples during his talk, 16 of which are illustrated by Goldschmidt and the orchestra, the remainder by Cooke at the piano. Helpfully, Testament track each of these examples separately. The talk is fascinating, not just because it gives an idea of the work Cooke did but also because it is, in effect, a detailed programme note about the symphony. As a result, for example, we learn much about the thematic interrelationships between the movements. On the second disc we hear the music in the hands of Goldschmidt and the Philharmonia. They were able to perform the first, third and fifth movements in their entirety but by that time Cooke had not been able to link together all the material of the other two movements so we hear four sections of II and three sections of IV. Even then the bulk of each of these movements can be heard – some eight minutes of II and nearly 11 minutes of IV.

Cooke’s talk is full of interest. He starts off by declaring unequivocally that what he has done is not a completion of Mahler’s score, rather it’s a realisation of the material. That always remained his position. He tells us that he rejected the published edition of the first movement because it contained many unwarranted additions to the scoring – something for which he did not blame Křenek but, rather, the subsequent editor, presumably Jokl. A crucial point is that he feels conductors who had hitherto performed this Adagio had misunderstood the music. They saw it as an extension of the valedictory Ninth whereas Goldschmidt, with the advantage of knowing what is to come later in the next four movements of the Tenth, takes that opening movement at a less “funereal” speed. He also talks about the third movement, ‘Purgatorio’ and points out that what Maher had in mind here was Dante’s "Purgatorio", so the movement isn’t “blood-curdling”. In his booklet note Colin Matthews, of whom more later, says that initially Cooke held the view that the ‘Purgatorio’ was a slight movement which Mahler would probably have discarded later; he came to change that view, recognising its thematic and emotional importance to the last two movements.

At this stage, in 1960, Cooke said that he felt he was about 80% of the way through as regards the scoring of the last two movements. When we hear Goldschmidt and the Philharmonia play the orchestral passages the music in all the movements is fascinating to hear. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we can hear some rough edges which would be smoothed out by the later work that Cooke, and his collaborators, did subsequent to December 1960.

Mind you, his work might have been stillborn for after the 1960 broadcast - and even though she had not heard it - Alma Mahler was persuaded to prohibit future performances of the music. We owe a huge debt to the conductor Harold Byrns who persuaded her to listen to a recording of the BBC broadcast. Greatly moved by what she heard, Alma changed her mind and wrote to Cooke giving “full permission” for further performances. Just before she died in 1964 a number of additional pages of manuscript score came to light among her papers and Cooke, who had continued to work privately on the score even during the time of Alma’s ban, was able to incorporate some of that material into his full performing version. He had been aided by Goldschmidt, who had supported his work from the outset. In addition, since 1963, he’d received assistance from the young brothers, Colin and David Matthews.

So it came about that at the 1964 Proms Berthold Goldschmidt conducted the premiere of the full performing version of the Tenth, which is what we can hear on the third CD. Let it be said straightaway that although the performance has its imperfections it’s still a fine reading. It’s interesting that his overall view of the first movement is a bit more spacious as compared with 1960; in the Prom performance he takes 23:05 compared with 21:20 in the earlier account. The track timings might suggest that he also takes more time over the finale but, in fact that’s not the case. In 1960 the movement played for 21:20 whereas in 1964 the music plays for 20:49 and is followed, after about three seconds, by applause.

Goldschmidt clearly understands the symphony at a very deep level. He gives a powerful, passionate reading of the opening Adagio and in the big climax the dissonance is strongly brought out. Though this climax is fairly brief Goldschmidt ensures it’s a wrenching experience. The emotionally fragile closing minutes are very moving. The LSO are agile and biting in the scherzo material of the second movement while the trio sections are nicely nostalgic though there are also some (deliberate) acid touches. This movement is quite reminiscent of the Scherzo of the Fifth.

The ‘Purgatorio’ is a strange little movement and Goldschmidt is good at bringing out both the light, almost innocent aspects as well as the darker side. His reading has the stamp of Mahlerian authenticity but, then, that’s true of his way with the symphony as a whole. The scherzo elements of the fourth movement are sharply projected. This, I suspect, is the most demanding part of the symphony to hold together, though that’s not to suggest that Goldschmidt is unconvincing. However, the movement has many sharp bends to negotiate and, to be honest, you can tell that at times. There’s some shuffling by the audience in the short gap between this movement and the finale, which is slightly damaging to the tension that Goldschmidt has created. The dull bass-drum thuds are very loud, though I suspect that’s done to ensure they register in the vast Albert Hall acoustic. The lovely flute solo – recently described to me by a highly experienced musician as “transcendental” – sounds like a ray of hope in a troubled landscape. Then the LSO strings take up the melody most beautifully. It’s salutary to reflect that, except for anyone who’d heard the 1960 broadcast, all those in the audience or listening on the radio would have been hearing this wonderful music for the very first time; that must have been a revelatory experience. Goldschmidt builds the music with great intensity to the point where the drum-strokes and the material from the movement’s opening are heard again. In the faster section he and the LSO deliver the music with thrust and urgency. The big climax (at 12:01) doesn’t really come off. The textures aren’t quite right yet – the xylophone sounds rather apologetic – but thereafter Goldschmidt handles the gentle last few minutes with great sensitivity. Thus Deryck Cooke’s performing version of Mahler’s Tenth was auspiciously launched.

That wasn’t quite the end of the story, for Cooke and his helpers continued to make changes to the score until it was published in 1974, not least by expanding the woodwind forces from triple to quadruple which enabled them to eliminate quite a bit of doubling. So, effectively the score that was published in 1974 was ‘Cooke II’ whereas the score that Goldschmidt unveiled in 1964 was ‘Cooke I’. Even after that publication further revisions – points of detail – were made and, for good measure, several conductors have made their own modifications. However, what you hear in this 1964 broadcast will sound very familiar to anyone who has heard any of the recent recordings of the symphony in Cooke’s version.

I think you will notice that both the 1960 and 1964 performances are not as polished as we are accustomed to hearing nowadays. In saying that I’m not just thinking of recordings, where there are opportunities to edit. The recent CBSO performance that I attended was more assured than the performances here preserved. I make this point not to denigrate in any way the tremendous efforts of either the Philharmonia or the LSO but two points are germane. One is that general standards in professional orchestras have risen significantly in the last fifty years or so. The other is that not only were these two orchestras playing highly demanding music for the first time but also orchestras were infinitely less familiar with Mahler’s music, its style and idiom, as compared with their successors today.

I find it very sad that a number of distinguished conductors who were prominent in the Mahler "boom” of the 1960s and 1970s would have no truck with the Cooke performing version. People of the standing of Bernstein, Haitink, Kubelik, Maazel, Solti and Tennstedt either never performed the Tenth or else confined themselves to the first and third movements. As these are all such esteemed Mahlerians one must respect their feelings that Mahler’s score should be left as he left it. That said, I would have loved to hear Bernstein and Haitink in particular conduct Cooke’s performing version. One great exception among this generation was the great German conductor, Kurt Sanderling, who took up the piece in 1979 and made a notable recording of it (review). However, for the most part it was left to conductors of the present generation such as Riccardo Chailly, Daniel Harding, Mark Wigglesworth and, above all, Sir Simon Rattle to advance the cause of Cooke’s performing version.

As I say, I have to respect the views of seasoned Mahler interpreters but I think they’re wrong. The Tenth gives us a much fuller, rounder picture of Mahler than is possible if our view of him ends with Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth. Deryck Cooke, through his dedication and musicianship, enabled us to get closer to Mahler’s Tenth than we might otherwise have. I think it’s also worth bearing in mind a point made to me recently by a correspondent who, like me, attended the recent CBSO performance. He commented, very fairly, that there’s a lot more of Mahler in Cooke’s performing version of the Tenth than there is, pro rata, of Mozart in Smayr’s completion of the Mozart Requiem, a score that I’m sure all of the aforementioned senior conductors played many times during their careers.

Cooke was not the only musician to attempt to render performable the score that Mahler left us. Among others performing versions are those by Rudolf Barshai (review), Clinton Carpenter (review), Remo Mazzetti Jr. (review) and Joe Wheeler (review). However, it’s the Cooke version that has secured the widest acceptance – there are nine recordings of it listed in our Masterworks Index, which tells its own story. It's also the version you’re most likely to encounter in the concert hall; rightly so, I think. While Cooke was both modest and realistic in insisting that he hadn’t “completed” the symphony his version sounds ’right’ to me. These three CDs bring to life for us the circumstances in which his work came to fruition.

Mahler’s Tenth Symphony is, for me, an indispensable part of his musical legacy. Our ability to hear it in Deryck Cooke’s authoritative and idiomatic performing edition both widens and deepens our appreciation and understanding of the music of Gustav Mahler. Without Cooke’s dedicated work – and that of his collaborators – lovers of the composer’s music would be much the poorer. This set from Testament is an historical document of great significance and I strongly commend it to all who would like to understand the work better.

It only remains to say that the transfers have been skilfully managed by Paul Baily and that the booklet includes a very valuable note by Colin Matthews.

John Quinn



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