Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Sieghart
Exton EXCL-00013 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (performing version by Samale/Mazzuca)
Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra
Martin Sieghart (conductor)
Review by John Miller - May 1, 2008
There are presently six functional performing versions of Mahler's sketched Tenth Symphony. He left fully scored versions of the first and third movements, with the rest completed in short score of various complexities. The most recent edition by Italian musicologists Giuseppe Mazzuca & Nicola Samale was premièred on 22 September 2001 in Perugia, Italy, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martin Sieghart. (Mazzuca and Samale are also known for their performing version of the Finale of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony). They seem to have based their new version on the magnificent work of Mahler scholar Deryck Cooke from the early 1960s, as updated by the Matthews brothers and conductors such as Simon Rattle.
Interest in Mahler's 10th Symphony remains great, and there are steadily increasing numbers of performances and recordings of the 'completed' movements of his score, and also of full performing versions. The matter of 'completion' of course remains highly controversial on a number of levels.
I first encountered Cooke's version in a BBC documentary made shortly after its completion, which was followed by a filmed performance of the work by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in a highly-charged and emotional performance. Ormandy was clearly in tears towards the end of the Finale. Hearing many subsequent live and recorded performances have only deepened my conviction that at the very least, the purely musical value of a good performing version is high, presenting a powerful and deeply affecting experience in itself. The various scholarly completions of works by Bruckner, Schubert and Beethoven are, to my mind, no more than curiosities, heard once and discarded by listeners. However, the sketches for the Mahler 10th contain wonderfully powerful music in full linear flow. They represent the work at the time of his death, and indicate that Mahler was taking a new direction after his near collapse in the Ninth Symphony. It seems to me that in his case the performing versions add much to our understanding of his art. Certainly the previous editions of the Tenth have been criticised for some bare patches in the orchestration of the 3 movements left in short score, but i didn't really notice this in the present recording.
Sieghart and his Arnhem Orchestra established fine Mahlerian credentials with their recent Das Lied von der Erde on the same label. Indeed there are evident connections between that work and this new 10th Symphony. They share a chamber-like scoring (clear in the completed movements), and the evocation of intense and deeply introspective emotions.
Compared with Simon Rattle's recording of the Cook-Matthews version on EMI DVD-A, Sieghart is around a minute slower than Rattle in each movement, except in the Purgatorio. It is not easy to discern how much of this owes to the Samale and Mazzucca tempo adjustments based on their reading of the manuscripts, and how is much to Sieghart's instincts. Making comparisons between Rattle and Sieghart suggests that the latter's ability to allow the music to breathe, but investing it with even more light, shade and contrast than Rattle, made for the more compelling experience. Certainly the previous performing versions of the Tenth have been criticised for some bare patches in the orchestration of those movements left in short score, but I didn't really notice this in the present recording.
The Arnhem Philharmonic players owe little to their Berlin counterparts in commitment and skill in this recording. Sieghart has an advantage in arranging his band with first violins and cellos to the left, seconds and violas to the right, basses centre and rear, and the complex overlapping string parts have never sounded so clear and their polyphony so effective. Mahler himself paid great attention to the spatial arrangement of his forces when conducting his own works. The strings are sweet, even when approaching their stratospheric regions, and in their lower registers they have fine depth of tone. The violas in particular are singled out for long passages alone in the first movement, singing one of Mahler's great love songs for his wife Alma, and they acquit themselves admirably. The build-up to the notorious great dissonant chord, an epitome of anguish with no less than 9 clashing notes, is almost unbearably tense. The dense chord itself, with a screaming trumpet on top and a huge bass drum at the bottom, is terrifying here, so the following tender release is the more effective.
Sieghart's broader approach to the two scherzo movements also allows much greater characterisation of Mahler's ironic echoes of Knaben Wunderhorn songs and his obsession with the rustic ländler, making Rattle's faster tempos sound clipped and rather pressured. In the Finale, again about the young Alma and the composer's 'Madonna Complex', as Freud put it, Sieghart keeps the threnody fresh and flowing, so the music surges and breathes with the life-blood of Mahler's love. It becomes the echo of the composer's scrawls of 'Almschi!, Almschi!' (Mahler's pet name for his wife), scrawled across the manuscript at this point. At the end, Sieghart and his players reach a final great sigh of warmth and tenderness, whereas Rattle tends to let the strands fade into nothingness as in the finale of the Ninth. With Seighart, Mahler is moving on. The whole performance also made me realise how modern Mahler's tonality is in this work, and I strongly felt there were echoes of Richard Strauss' avant-garde opera Salome (1903-5), one important dissonant motive in the Finale being very close to Strauss' leitmotif for Salome's twisted mind.
Thankfully, Exton's recording in the Concert Hall, Musis Sacrum, Arnhem is as fine as that for their Das Lied disc. The surround sound is spacious with a consistent perspective, allowing the great climaxes to blossom to full effect, but maintaining the detailed delicacy of the chamber-like score. Its dynamic range is impressive, and the bass drum is given due weight, especially in its shocking muffled blows during the last movement (Mahler took his idea for this effect from a New York fireman's funeral procession which passed beneath the window of his Manhattan apartment). Exton also provide a large folded sheet with many musical excerpts, comparing what they rather regrettably term the S&M version with the C (Cooke) version at various points, and these are tied into the Japanese text, which include a note by Alma Zsolnay-Mahler, the composer's grand-daughter.
This is a significant and deeply moving performance of the Tenth; Mahler purists will probably avoid it on principle, others will be rewarded with a telling musical journey.
Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net