June 11, 2011 12:17 am

Mahler: Symphony No 10

 

Mahler

Symphony No 10

Deryck Cooke & Berthold Goldschmidt

(Testament, 3 CDs)

 

 

Mahler

Symphony No 10

David Zinman

(RCA Red Seal)

 

For a hard core of Mahler fans, the Tenth Symphony is his final masterpiece, essential to our understanding of his life’s work. For the rest of us, including the late Otto Klemperer, who knew Mahler, it is a piece of wishful thinking. The debate has been going on for more than 50 years, ever since British musicologist Deryck Cooke introduced the unfinished symphony to a BBC radio audience in 1960 – a talk and incomplete performance, reproduced on the first two of Testament’s three CDs.

The composer’s widow, who had banned a completion of the symphony from the sketches, was so impressed that she gave Cooke the go-ahead to produce a performing version – and released previously unavailable material. Cooke’s full-length elaboration was premiered at the 1964 Proms, conducted by Goldschmidt, so the third CD captures an historic moment.

The five-movement symphony – an Adagio (the only music Mahler left virtually complete), two scherzos separated by the short, sunny “purgatorio”, and a listless finale – has since found favour with several distinguished conductors. But so many questions remain – about what Mahler intended, what he might have changed and how legitimate it is for anyone, however skilled, to fill the gaps – that the symphony must remain an act of conjecture.

The value of the Testament set lies in Cooke’s lucid talk. Goldschmidt’s Proms performance sounds rudimentary, especially next to Zinman’s voluptuous studio recording with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. But the comparison isn’t fair, for Zinman opts for one of the many subsequent reconstructions – a softer-grained version by American musicologist Clinton Carpenter.

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