Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Symphony No. 10 (1910-11, realisation and elaboration of the unfinished drafts by Yoel Gamzou)
International Mahler Orchestra/Yoel Gamzou
rec. live 24-25 November, 2011, Großer Saal der Philharmonie, Berlin WERGO WER5122-2 [79:29]
Mahler’s Tenth has held a continuing fascination for musicologists, conductors and composers for almost ninety years, starting with Ernst Krenek and Willem Mengelberg in the early 1920s. Since the Second World War completions of the symphony have largely been favoured by musicologists: in America with Clinton Carpenter’s 1949 (rev.1966) completion, and, in England, with reconstructions by Joe Wheeler (during the 1950s and 1960s) and, most notably, Derek Cooke, whose first version appeared in 1960. The German writer and historian Hans Wollschläger started working on a performing version in 1954 but he withdrew it in 1962, unpublished, having concluded that “unfinished masterpieces should be left untouched”. It’s a conclusion a number of musicologists who have laid waste to Mahler’s score, with hubris and ambition occluding a gift for composing and orchestration, and often questionable musical taste, might have better observed. There are very good reasons why composers like Schoenberg, Shostakovich and Britten haven’t left realisations of Mahler’s Tenth; and there are equally, very good reasons why musicologists like Carpenter, Mazzuca and Samale, and to a lesser extent Wheeler, have left us completions which fall short in many ways.
When we come to the Tenth it is worth remembering that almost nine-tenths of the work’s counterpoint and harmony remains Mahler’s own: very little needs to be added in terms of chords, harmonic progressions, bass-lines or counter-themes. Very infrequently is one required to second guess what Mahler was trying to do (an exception to this is the third movement, especially after bar 31 and the intended orchestration of the Fourth movement). What Mahler left orchestrated in either orchestral or short score is extensive: 275 bars of the Adagio, 522 bars of the Scherzo, 170 bars of the Purgatorio, 579 bars of the second Scherzo and 400 bars of the Finale (both the two last movements in short score only). Despite the short scoring for the Fifth movement, however, Mahler’s intentions are clear: Dark, heavy scoring is implied at the opening of the movement by the specification for muffled drum, two contrabassoons and low horns. This in itself is a clue to the tempo, as is the notation for the woodwind (minims) and a single handwritten instruction by Mahler later in score “Schnell” (faster). The flute solo marked at bar 29, one of Mahler’s most beautiful pieces of writing, is fully indicated, as is the ppp marking for the violins at bar 44. Horns are indicated at bar 284, heralding the return of the symphony, and most significantly the final apotheosis of the flute melody at bar 352 is marked for ALL violins. Mahler’s original instrumentation for the Tenth does not include bass drum, cymbals or triangle, though both Cooke and Gamzou (among others) use these in their respective performing versions to quite differing effects.
Despite being an incomplete symphony, there is absolutely no question of the direction Mahler was traveling when he composed it. The shreds of autobiography that ripple through these fragmented torsos of the work more than suggest it would have been Mahler’s most dissonant work had he completed it. It more than genuflects towards the atonality of Berg whilst seeming to crucify on the stave the last elements of Brucknerian expressiveness and ecstasy. The second theme of the opening Adagio, for example, in F sharp major, incorporates tonality through distant keys but hovering above this is Mahler’s use of ninth chords to sustain a new sound-world of dissonance clashing with orchestral tension. The fortissimo A minor triad that strikes at the climax of the Adagio has a crushing dissonance that could have come from Berg’s Wozzeck. Mahler’s orchestration here is masterful, which if played correctly (and this really is the point) has the impact of an organ (Inbal and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, on Exton, are as good as any here). Cooke and Gamzou don’t see a need to ostensibly interfere with what Mahler originally wrote, though Gamzou tails off the ending somewhat prosaically, a tendency he has in key moments of the Tenth; Samale-Mazzucca in their performing version of the symphony, however, add rolling timpani and it simply sounds self-indulgent, even if the effect is like an erupting volcano; Carpenter, less interventionist than usual, simply adds a single percussion stroke before Mahler begins. Gamzou, interestingly, (at V, bar 196) heads this section APOKALYPSE in his score (a marking he repeats in the Finale as well); Cooke (bar 194) gives no such heading, but Gamzou’s actual recording of this section sounds underpowered to me. Even though he scores for harps, and at fff, as does Cooke, they are all but inaudible, which is certainly not the case in James Levine’s recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra using Cooke II.
Inaudibility and orchestral balance is a persistent problem in this performance with the International Mahler Orchestra. One can certainly wonder how large Gamzou’s orchestra is, especially in the strings. His score states “A too large string section is not recommended” (14-14-12-10-8 being the maximum configuration 10-10-8-7-5 being the minimum). The DVD (Folipro 1210/1) of the world premiere performance of his performing version, from a concert given at the Synagoge Rykestraße in Berlin in 2010, shows him using only four double basses, and reduced strings, but he doesn’t scale back the quadruple wind or brass to compensate for this. In part, the lack of a full body of string players, although devastating for Mahler’s bass line, encourages us to listen to Gamzou’s Bergian melodrama with its almost existentialist and, at times, expressionistic accenting of chords, a key distinction of realisation. This undernourishment in the orchestra, and a lack of technique in front of his players, on the one hand makes this Mahler Tenth sound almost prostrate and paralyzed of intensity; but it also makes it sound as if there is a genuine struggle between diatonic harmony and atonalism emerging, and there exists a greater contrast in his use of tempos, however frustrating, erratic and sudden these can sometimes be. This is, I think, most notable in the Finale (which I shall come to a bit later) which in Cooke II and III, and particularly in performances like those from Levine and Wyn Morris and Rattle I (BSO), can make this symphony sound more backward looking than forwards. Gamzou’s Finale is anything but backward looking, but his changes are not without controversy.
The Scherzo is one of Mahler’s most striking. It has often been suggested that had Mahler lived he would have struggled to have conducted this movement given the sharp distinctions between the movement’s metrics. Certainly the A parts of the Scherzo follow very ambiguous rhythms. The B parts, however, are mostly in ¾ meter and their character is clearly a lighter burden for the listener. Gamzou certainly highlights the contrasts here, especially between the A and B parts, though he struggles to get the distinctions between the competing meters right in his actual recording. The Purgatorio shifts between elements of bleakness and brightly written longer passages. It is expressive and tilts towards the vocal in its characterization of its motifs. Gamzou certainly sees it as ending more darkly than others have and I think, however, he is correct to change the marking for the tam-tam at the end of the Purgatorio to sf from Cooke’s p. The second Scherzo, which Gamzou cuts in places, is again characteristic of a complicated metric structure, both demonic and happy, swirling between the edges of a waltz and the scythe of death which blows down at the movement’s end with its muted drum stroke. Cooke’s version of this movement’s coda, which sounds closer to the post-Hiroshima sound-world of Britten than Mahler in some ways, has always struck me as even less final in its devastation than Mahler probably intended. Gamzou does not score it anywhere near as darkly as Cooke but simply ends it on the first “fate” blow from the Finale.
Yoel Gamzou writes in the introduction to his score that the Finale is “a piece of music so unique and special… The Finale is the key to the 10th Symphony, and it is also the most intense and shattering statement in music I have ever encountered”. Likewise, the first performance of this movement, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Berthold Goldschmidt on 19th December 1960, left a profound impression on those who heard it, and justifiably so (this essential recording is on Testament). The Finale has everything: a sweeping and intense theme in D major, two beautiful adagios, funeral music, breathtaking solos for flute and horn, and a final coda of unprecedented weight and intensity. Yet, of all the movements in Mahler’s Tenth this is the one that has proved the most challenging for musicologists and for many to remain unambiguously Mahlerian. Its structure is undeniably complex, and Mahler only gives a tempo marking to the middle section of the movement – Allegro moderato. With the exception of Clinton Carpenter, at least in the dire recording we have from Harold Farberman, who gets through the entire movement in 18.45, one might think Mahler intended this to be the only tempo. Cooke is surely right to have labelled the first part Langsam, schwer (slow, heavy) and the final part Sehr ruhig (very quietly), though almost everyone has taken issue with this in one way or another. Gamzou is much more interventionist than Cooke in his tempo instructions before Mahler’s own written Allegro moderato marking: at A (bar 18) he marks the score Sehr langsam, at B (bar 30) he inserts Adagio molto, at C (bar 45) he marks it Sempre Adagio, at D1, Tempo 1 (bar 70) he writes Adagio molto. Only at Fig. E do we get Mahler’s Allegro moderato. This over-emphasis on specific tempo directions is generally typical of Gamzou’s realisation of his entire score where I feel he can sound mannered, even a touch capricious, whereas Cooke is content to let Mahler speak as closely as possible.
The opening of the Finale, perhaps one of the most lugubrious openings in all Mahler, brings a difference in instrumentation from Cooke and Gamzou. Cooke scores the opening for bass tuba and contrabassoon; Gamzou changes this to contrabassoon and bassoon and I am completely persuaded by Gamzou’s alteration here, just as I am by his Sehr langsam marking which gives these opening bars truly Wagnerian breadth and effect. The ghost of Fafner, indeed the plundering of Wagnerian tonality at its darkest in Siegfried, shimmers over this opening as in no other reconstruction of these opening bars (compare this to Samale-Mazzucca who use no woodwind whatsoever for the opening bars). Even Gamzou’s recording with the International Mahler Orchestra scales unmatched heights of intensity here, as if they too are inspired by the scoring. It’s no surprise that Gamzou sees the opening of this movement as one of terror, with drum strokes “as loud as possible” and “more terminal than in Mahler’s Sixth” yet I remain persuaded by Simon Rattle’s refusal to countenance the first drum stroke of the Finale (neither of his recordings play it). The magnificent flute solo which Mahler wrote (bars 29 to 46, both Cooke and Gamzou) remains one of those cantilena themes that almost every musicologist has left intact and Gamzou’s excellent flautist is every bit as expressive as the wonderful Gareth Morris (on a wooden flute) is for the New Philharmonia Orchestra back in 1973.
The issue of greatest divergence between Cooke and Gamzou, as it is between Cooke and almost everyone else, is the great climax to the Finale that starts at bar 351. This isn’t simply the expressive climax of this movement, it’s the absolute climax of the Tenth and one of the most searing passages in all Mahler. Mahler in his short score writes “Alle Viol. Großer ton” (All violins. Big sound) and marks the first bar line ff and yet it remains truly astonishing what atrocities some performing versions of this symphony have turned this seminal part of the work into. Perhaps worst of all is Samale-Mazzucca, who in keeping with much of their work on this symphony, plaster on layers of Romantic kitsch, with whooping horns, excessive timpani, and a Korngoldian glitz. Remo Mazzetti at least takes Mahler’s string marking at face value, but then either he, or Slatkin in his performance of this version, bury it under a slurry of heavy brass. Wheeler IV is the first to add a cymbal clash, but he over-orchestrates in my view. Only Cooke comes anywhere near getting the expressive intensity of this section as Mahler surely intended it to sound, his marking of Immer Adagio (nicht eilen) (Adagio throughout. Do not rush) seeming just right to me. His scrupulous note markings, rarely going above ff or mf for strings, allow the strings, in unison, to soar. Depending on which performances you listen to the effects can be startlingly different; Levine, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Morris with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, are both much slower than others but their strings have greater tonal weight. Both are astonishing here giving this passage huge pathos and density, with Morris just ahead. Inbal, with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and Gielen, with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden are swifter, though still in tempo. Inbal, it must be said, is annoyingly vocal throughout this Tenth.
Gamzou starts this section at bar 351 as well, but by inserting a sff quarter note for both bass drum and timpani. Whilst keeping Mahler’s instruction of “Großer Ton” he strikes out the “Alle Viol” and instead orchestrates this section for strings, woodwind and brass. His only tempo markings at Fig. V are Heftig (Impetuous) and Breit (Broad). The climax of this section incorporates a cymbal clash at bar 369 (fff). Gamzou sounds much closer to Joe Wheeler than he does to Cooke in his orchestration of this section but I find it unfathomable that this is the kind of way Mahler would have wanted this great climax before the Coda to sound.
So, where does Yoel Gamzou’s realisation of this score sit in relation to others? He has been careful in his introduction to his own score not to specifically tell us which existing versions by others he was “discontented” with (though, I think, it’s entirely probable from listening to this version and reading the score that an answer to that question isn’t difficult to guess). He writes that some of his predecessors “went for it” allowing more of their own personalities into the creative process “that the score ceased to be a symphony by Mahler”. This is indeed something that Colin and David Matthews and Berthold Goldschmidt commented on much more openly in their criticism of Clinton Carpenter’s, and, less implicitly of Remo Mazzetti’s versions. In their view Carpenter ventured much more dangerously into pastiche, even going so far as to quote from Mahler’s earlier symphonies in his completion of the Tenth. The Carpenter is clearly an anomaly, but so too is the Samale-Mazzucca with its tendencies to draw us away from the direction Mahler’s Tenth was clearly traveling musically. Gamzou is correct in saying that in trying to finish an incomplete work it is a pitfall to be authentic because you can’t be. He is equally right in suggesting that the Tenth will never sound the way Mahler conceived it to sound. Gamzou does make a distinction between the highly interventionist stance taken by some of his predecessors and his less intrusive style, but I have sometimes found his scoring to be the opposite. He is more willing to change tempo than Cooke is, and much more willing to give accents to his notation. The problem with the performance is that much of this doesn’t come across. Where Cooke eschews unnecessary complexity, Gamzou embraces it.
However, I think Gamzou’s realisation is a significant achievement, even if it doesn’t displace Cooke. He clearly views the Tenth in autobiographical terms – and by extension the narrative that Gamzou orchestrates is one that is more typically spiritual and psychological than in almost any current version. The crises in Mahler’s life at the time are written out in this score like never before. The terror and horror, the acknowledgement of mortality and death, the finality of absolution and farewell, are all illustrated in his scoring. There are attempts to make Mahler sound much more visionary and atonal, closer to Berg and the Second Viennese School, than Bruckner and even the Mahler of the Ninth Symphony or Das Lied von der Erde. This can sometimes be a much darker, heavier score in Gamzou’s hands despite the sometimes deliberate attempts to make the scoring itself less dense instrumentally. It would be wrong to suggest that the performance he gives with the International Mahler Orchestra is without problems. I seriously questioned his own tempos at times, though given the date of the performance (2011) it’s entirely possible he was sometimes winging it; a performance today would no doubt sound very different.
This is an important, if imperfect, release.
My thanks to Schott Publishing for sending me a copy of:
Mahler Symphonie Nr.10 fur großes orchester,
Realisation und Weiterentwicklung der unvollendeten Skizzen
Konzertfassung von Yoel H.Gamzou (op. post./1910/2003-2010) Ed 21849