Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Symphony No.10 (1910-11) (performing version by Deryck Cooke)
Seattle Symphony/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. live in concert, 19, 21 & 22 November, 2015, S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington

I whole-heartedly endorse this splendid live recording, which is very fleet and propulsive but manages to confer a real sense of unity and purpose on what remains a neglected work and surely a worthy companion to Mahler's other "farewell" symphonies, the Ninth and "Das Lied von der Erde" (a vocal symphony in all but name). It shares their valedictory and, ultimately transcendent narrative and confirms Deryck Cooke's completion as both the most satisfying version and, for all the understandable hedging by those who attempt that daunting task but wish to avoid hubris, an entity which surely can stand as a fair representation of Mahler's intent, even if we obviously do not how he might have gone on to refine it.

Having just reviewed and very much enjoyed Yoel Gamzou's elaboration, I still prefer the Cooke version above all, as it is sparer and leaner and surely more in keeping with the direction Mahler's music was taking when he died. The Carpenter, Samale-Mazzuca and Barshai completions are certainly of great value and interest but this remains the best option for hearing what is fast becoming my favourite Mahler symphony, for all that I love the First, the Fifth and the Sixth.

The sound of this recording, compiled from three live performances in the superb acoustic of the S.Mark Taper Auditorium (what a mouthful) in Seattle, is excellent - as long as you a) don't mind the fact that it is not SACD; personally I couldn't care less and, b) accept that the engineers have gone for an aural landscape which more accurately reflects the ambiance heard by a listener sitting way up and way back in the hall. I do not mean this as a criticism; it is very naturalistic and reflects my preference for cheaper seats with a more spacious and reverberant acoustic - and there is certainly no lack of detail or obscuring of dynamic gradation, whose range is very wide but always audible. From the very first notes, the eerie, disembodied sound of the violas' keening immediately marks out this recording as something special.

Despite its speed, the whole performance is finely judged and moulded and Dausgaard is not afraid of extremes: the grotesque, prancing dance of the third them to be introduced in the first movement is wonderfully sharp; the soaring chorale with its wide, leaping intervals is very broadly played and the appearance of the famous nine-note scream in both the first and last movements never fails to give me goosebumps. The first Scherzo is swift, flexible and full of nostalgic Mahlerian-Alpine swing; the Purgatorio is played hard and fast to suggest how its restless, faux-naïf jollity conceals a nasty edge; he second Scherzo is very free and expressive, penetrating generously applied rubato with some really crisp and unified orchestral ensemble, its release bringing out the grotesquerie of the music.

The finale is introduced with a really loud, sharp thwack on the bass drum that jolts the listener out of his seat as the shrieking chord does.The solo flute is coolly and hauntingly beautiful, then the stuttering central theme gives way to a serene trumpet solo before a rapt coda of great intensity and concentration; this is playing of the highest order.

I'm not sure I much like the prescriptiveness of Thomas Dausgaard's psychological narrative in his note, tracing the musical development of the symphony by closely matching it to the distressing events of Mahler's personal crisis whereby he made Alma choose between him and Walter Gropius but I cannot argue with the result; this has a strong claim to being the best Cooke version on record, even if I am not going to jettison Ormandy, Rattle (first recording) et al.

Ralph Moore

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