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Mahler: Symphony No 10 (Version By Cooke) / Noseda

Release Date: 02/05/2008 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10456   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Gianandrea Noseda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER (arr. Cooke) Symphony No. 10 Gianandrea Noseda, cond; BBC PO CHANDOS 10456 (78:24)

There are at least a half a dozen recordings of Deryck Cooke’s performing version(s) of Mahler’s 10th. With the reissue last year of Ormandy’s premiere recording, Cooke’s original and revised editions are now readily available on disc. Simon Rattle, who has been a stalwart advocate of the work, has recorded the revision twice, and his latest performance with the Berlin Philharmonic must be Read more counted among the most prestigious, if not necessarily the most successful (the former assessment may change with the arrival of a recording featuring the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Paul Daniels on DG, available by the time this review is in print). The annotation for the disc under review (a shorter version of which appeared with the Decca CD conducted by Riccardo Chailly) was written by David Matthews, who with his brother Colin (annotator for Rattle’s Berlin disc) assisted Cooke in the revisions to his score (Berthold Goldschmidt, Cooke’s collaborator and conductor for the premiere of the completed score in 1964, receives a quick mention, though Rattle and others have been more generous in their estimation of Goldschmidt’s role in Cooke’s 10th).

Matthews includes a fair amount of detail in his note, which is both illuminating and somewhat self-serving. One aspect of his analysis receives graphic reinforcement: in his program note, Matthews makes reference to a two-part structure, part one comprising the first two movements, and part two the last three (other commentators have also alluded to such a division). The Chandos disc now incorporates that scheme into its printed layout for the movements—and in the performance, about which, more below.

My own preference in recordings of Cooke’s revised score is the one conducted by Eliahu Inbal, originally released in 1992 by Denon, and it was primarily that performance that I used for comparison, though I revisited several others as noted below. Both the Inbal and the new Noseda benefit from excellent sound: in the Chandos production, there is ample instrumental definition, even in the strings—seated in modern fashion, with violins massed; it is still possible to differentiate between firsts and seconds, and there is decent bite in the pizzicatos; the bass is deep but not thunderous.

Noseda takes care to distinguish between both tempos in the first movement, as the music fluctuates between andante and adagio ; the soundstage opens out convincingly as the violins take up the main theme from the meandering viola statement. Tension builds effectively—the music seems to swell as emotional content gets more extreme and phrases begin to fray. The massive organ-like brass chorale at the heart of the movement is powerful without distortion or compression; the dissonance that follows neither shrieks nor blares, but fills the sound-picture convincingly.

The first Scherzo plods, not unlike the Ländler of No. 9; it is heavy in similar fashion, but is rhythmically secure—not an easy task, as the time signature is constantly in flux; Noseda allows the disjointed quality to be felt rather than trying to give the music a regular pulse. The music of the Trio is all Mahlerian warmth. Inbal is brisker, conducting a dance that is nimble on its feet; his performance is altogether brighter and more playful, though it becomes a bit frenzied and is rhythmically less secure.

The tiny Purgatorio, the keystone in the arch of the five-movement work, is delicate in its spidery string tracery; this is reminiscent of the Menuetto of No. 3, as well as of the “treadmill” ostinato of “Das irdische Leben.” In its concentrated energy, this movement clearly points to the Second Viennese School; Noseda captures that intensity. The fourth movement begins attacca , reinforcing the concept of the bipartite structure of the work. Noseda pays attention to Mahler’s direction nicht zu schnell , while Inbal takes two minutes off his timing, bringing the music precariously close to the volcano’s edge; Noseda charts a more gradual progress from light into darkness, very similar to the Scherzo of No. 6—the dissolution is effectively prolonged here.

The stark drumbeat that both ends the fourth and initiates the fifth movement raises several issues: Cooke, Mazzetti, and Carpenter opt for a military-style side drum, while Wheeler specifies a bass drum. The sound should be dull and sharp, muffled in the sense that there is none of the usual resonance, but not necessarily muted in sound (Carpenter’s is, and very effectively so). Noseda’s drum is very loud—I presume he employed some kind of military drum, though it sounds larger than those found on other recordings; only Rattle’s first recording is louder, though the tremendous thwack heard thereon belongs more to the world of the Sixth.

Ormandy and Inbal take the last movement at a faster pace, robbing it somewhat of the more thorough examination of the themes that Noseda’s more relaxed tempo allows. The hammer-like drumbeats are reminiscent of the finale of the Sixth, but in reverse: here, the punctuation initiates, rather than ends, the musical development. The poignancy of the flute melody, the first iteration of the love theme, is for me the measure of the effectiveness of a performance of the fifth movement. Cooke: “This is not music of death but—as is confirmed by Mahler’s avowal of devotion to his wife written over the last bars—of love.” Noseda passes the test, with a theme that breathes deeply.

The world of the Ninth is invoked, as is the first movement’s lament, only to summon up the Adagietto of No. 5, complete with harp, as the last iteration of the love theme is heard; the BBC strings are full-bodied and very powerful here. The great, swelling pianissimo-to-fortissimo coda, with its nearly two-octave leap, is beautifully managed.

Rattle’s Berlin recording, though impressive in many ways, is disappointing: the opening Adagio is practically devoid of intensity, and the sound is remarkably undernourished, even in its DVD-Audio version; I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that Rattle’s first performance, recorded in Bournemouth when the conductor was just 25, is more compelling. The aforementioned Ormandy holds up extremely well, though the Technicolor quality of Columbia/Sony’s close-up production can sound coarse.

This new performance surpasses Rattle II in emotional intensity and sound quality; 10ths by Inbal, Chailly, and Michael Gielen, as well as Rattle I, have their strengths, but I have no reservations in suggesting that Noseda’s performance is superior. Anyone looking for a first-rate recording of Deryck Cooke’s Mahler 10 need look no further.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 10 in F sharp minor/major by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Gianandrea Noseda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Austria 
Notes: Arranger: Deryck Cooke. 

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