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Audio CD, 5 February 2021
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Left unfinished at the death of the composer, Gustav Mahler's Tenth Symphony has exerted an enormous fascination on musicologists as well as musicians a kind of Holy Grail of 20th-century music. Recognized as an intensely personal work, it was initially consigned to respectful oblivion, but over the years, Alma Mahler, the composers widow, released more and more of Mahlers sketches for publication, and gradually it became clear that he had in fact bequeathed an entire five-movement symphony in short score (i.e. written on three or four staves). Of this, nearly half had reached the stage of a draft orchestration, while the rest contained indications of the intended instrumentation. Over the years a number of different completions or performing versions of the Tenth have seen the light of day. One of the most often performed and recorded of these is that by Deryck Cooke. Cooke himself insisted that his edition was not a completion of the work, but rather a functional presentation of the materials as Mahler left them. Cookes performing version of the symphony is the one that Osmo Vanska has chosen to use for the seventh installment in his and the Minnesota Orchestras Mahler series, a cycle characterized by an unusual transparency and clarity of sound as well as musical conception.
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In a work which at turns is haunting, desolate, poignant and, above all, beautiful, Vanska breathes new life into Cooke’s performing score of Mahlers last symphonic thoughts. Ensemble playing is faultless and the momentum and tempos selected by Vanska are, in my humble view, near perfect.
In recording after recording the BIS engineers continue to astonish. Listened to in the 2 channel stereo SACD format the sound was simply glorious.
This is a wonderful addition to the ever expanding Mahler catalogue and one I would unhesitatingly recommend.
However, the tempi on this interpretation are quite slow at times, and every gesture, chord, and passage seems to be very, very carefully, and often timidly placed - a perfect example of this occurs in the last movement when the nine-note dissonant chord from the first movement reappears, and the whole horn section takes the viola melody from the opening of the symphony - instead of confident, and forward, it is restrained and tepid, largely changing the meaning of the symphony.
Compare this recording to Simon Rattle's Bournemouth Symphony recording from 30 years ago - that one is so vibrant and full of life, even when the music is full of grief and loss.