Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Vänskä

Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Vänskä

BIS  BIS 2396

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (performing version by Deryck Cooke)

Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, conductor

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 composer’s widow, released more and more of Mahler’s 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. Cooke’s performing version of the symphony is the one that Osmo Vanska has chosen to use for the seventh installment in his and the Minnesota Orchestra’s Mahler series, a cycle characterized by an unusual transparency and clarity of sound as well as musical conception.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - February 15, 2021

Osmo Vänskä’s probing survey of the Mahler Symphonies that began three years ago continues with this eagerly anticipated release of the Tenth Symphony, left unfinished at the composer’s death. It was in 1960, the centenary of Mahler’s birth, that Deryck Cooke began a detailed examination of Mahler’s sketches and eventually produced a ‘performing version’ of the score in 1964. Further revisions were made to this version by Cooke, in 1972 and 1976, aided by composer brothers Colin and David Matthews. In 1989 thirteen years after Cooke’s death a final revision was published and this is what is used for Vänskä’s recording.

Over the years there have been many others who have produced ‘completions’ of the Symphony with varying success. These include Joseph Wheeler, Remo Mazzetti, Rudolf Barshai and Clinton Carpenter (all available on disc), but it is Cooke’s that has been favoured by most conductors and rightly regarded as the most objective and least interventionist attempt to bring Mahler’s work to the concert hall.

Those familiar with some or all of the previous six issues in Vänskä’s Mahler survey (unfortunately due to the pandemic, it is too soon yet to call it a cycle as the 3rd, 8th and 9th symphonies are yet to be recorded) will know that objectivity is a key aspect in Vänskä’s interpretative style. Not for him the naked emotional angst of some lauded Mahler exponents, but rather a more nuanced restraint that keeps emotion in balance with the composer’s symphonic structures. The conductor’s approach manifests itself in the opening movement where the sinuous recitative, beautifully articulated by the violas of the Minnesota Orchestra, steals in imperceptibly from silence. Vänskä’s very measured account of this long movement certainly impresses through his skill in sustaining interest thanks to his ability to hold a firm grip on the melodic line and rhythmic pulse. As so often with Vänskä interpretations the dynamic range employed is extremely wide; hushed pianissimos, sometimes verging on the limit of audibility, contrasting with huge fortissimos such as those heard at the terrifyingly dissonant climaxes of this movement and also their reappearance in the finale.

Vänskä’s vividly pungent accounts of the three movements that follow are a masterclass in focused direction. His fine ear for orchestral sonority illuminates many elements of the scoring with an unerring confidence that he communicates to his musicians. The first scherzo is notable Mahler’s use of varied meter that is constantly in flux, but the superbly drilled musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra negotiate this tricky movement with absolute security making light of its not inconsiderable technical difficulties. The conductor’s subtle use of rubato permeates the second scherzo in which the references to the first movement of ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ are made clear as well as other telling insights, illuminated once again by virtuoso orchestral playing, in this anguished dance with the devil.

The arresting bass drum thuds at the start of the finale are perhaps louder than those suggested in the score but certainly convey the sense of foreboding and Vänskä does not delay in reaching the serene flute melody, played here with entrancing purity. As the movement unfolds he and his wonderful orchestra release the full emotional and ecstatic yearning of the music with a passionate intensity and warmth that will surprise many, while the closing pages are delivered with a poignant and ineffable sweetness.

Thanks to their familiarity with the acoustic of Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, the BIS recording team, producer Robert Suff and engineer Matthias Spitzbarth, have achieved a recording of remarkable clarity with a beautifully judged balance between detail and generous hall ambience on this 5.0 multi-channel SACD, aided no doubt by the antiphonal seating of the violins in the manner Mahler would have expected. Jeremy Barham’s excellent liner notes provide a fascinating account of the work’s genesis as well as many helpful musical pointers to listeners.

It is now over sixty years ago since Deryck Cooke wrote:
“I am convinced that my apparently presumptuous undertaking will prove justified; that these last two movements, though slightly touched up and entirely orchestrated by another hand, will reveal themselves as among Mahler’s finest conceptions; and that it will be realised for the first time that the Tenth Symphony, far from being a pathetic, fragmentary product of failing powers, is the near- realisation of a final, spiritually victorious masterpiece.”

No one listening to Osmo Vänskä’s deeply considered and superbly performed account of this work, delivered in vivid high resolution sound, could doubt that it totally vindicates Cooke’s, self-effacing undertaking.

A must for all Mahlerites and unreservedly recommended.

Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (7)

Comment by Jan Arell - February 15, 2021 (1 of 7)

This is, to my knowledge, the first SACD release of Mahler's 10th in the Cooke edition.
But it's the third in surround.
First, there was a DVD Audio by the Berliners and Simon Rattle. Sounds a bit old by today's sonic standards (EMI, recorded 1999).
In 2016 there was a very good recording by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard. It was released physically as an ordinary CD only, but can be downloaded in surround via links from the orchestra's website.
Anyway, I'll eagerly buy this new BIS recording as soon as it turns up on

Comment by DYB - February 17, 2021 (2 of 7)

The Seattle Symphony web-site links to Acoustic Sounds to purchase surround sound of their recordings, but it looks like Acoustic Sounds no longer offers digital downloads... which is a shame. It was one of my go-to online stores.

Comment by Desertpilot - February 17, 2021 (3 of 7)

Downloading now from eClassical. 24 bit and 5.0 surround. Sadly, I asked Native DSD and they replied that most BIS recordings are PCM and thus not eligible for Native DSD.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by AOS - February 18, 2021 (4 of 7)

There is another one which is still available: Zinman/Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Mahler Symphony No. 10 (ed. Carpenter).

I had to admit that the sonic quality of the Vänska recording is very good. Very natuaral and direct. It could have a little bit more room.

Addendum: The interpretation itself is a bit dull and tamed. I think the one from Chailly with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin is still the best. Although it is just a 16 Bit recording is has a great sound.

Comment by Athenaeus - February 20, 2021 (5 of 7)

DYB, I was very surprised when I read your comment and I had a look on their website. I eventually found this announcement on their Facebook page: "It's been a good run. A great run actually! But alas we've reached the decision to cease operating our Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez digital downloads service after seven years. Our last day of selling downloads will be December 31, 2020. Several factors have led us to make this difficult decision. As streaming continues to eclipse downloads, sales have steadily declined. Also, the Music Modernization Act of 2018 introduces fees and reporting requirements that further compromise our ability to operate this portion of our business. We want to thank all of our loyal customers. We know that this will be disappointing news to many. To those of you who have supported our Super HiRez service through the years, we wish to thank you sincerely."

The announcement was posted on December 24th, i.e. only a week before they ceased offering the service.

I'm only set up for CDs and vinyl so this doesn't affect me but I can imagine a lot of customers are disappointed. I know a good portion of the downloads they were selling were their own remasterings. I wonder if these downloads are available elsewhere. But I suppose they aren't since the problems Acoustics Sounds were having on their own site would be the same on any other site.

I hope this change will mean they start releasing more SACDs again. They have unfortunately been producing less these last few years. Let's hope then that the end of their downloads service will have a silver lining and lead to an increase and renewal of their SACD catalogue since it seems this will now be the only way to purchase a digital version of their releases.

Comment by DYB - February 20, 2021 (6 of 7)

Athenaeus, very disappointed indeed! Especially because they were one of the very few vendors who did offer some recordings in DSF downloads, including their own remastering. (In fact, nobody else offered those Analog Productions releases in DSF.) So, very sad about it...

Comment by Gleb Panaeff - February 24, 2021 (7 of 7)

Desert pilot, I find nothing disappointing about obtaining the excellent BIS multichannel recordings from eClassical. Very infrequently I am tempted by the NativeDSD site with their extortionist pricing and uneven selections. While BIS has figured out how to thrive without charging laughable sums for the downloads of superior musical and acoustic virtue, NativeDSD remains an extremely niche product