Germany Mahler Festival : City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Robert Trevino (conductor), Gewandhaus Grosser Saal, Leipzig, 21.5.2023. (GT)
Mahler – Symphony No.10 in F major (performing version by Deryck Cooke)
In his programme notes, Stephen Johnston makes the point that when Mahler was preparing his Tenth Symphony, he was ‘talking excitedly about future plans’, and despite the death of his daughter Maria and the diagnosis of his heart lesion, ‘Mahler had thrown himself back into his conducting and composing career as determinedly as ever.’ The discovery that his wife Alma had an affair cast its mark on his final uncompleted symphony and brought his death ever closer.
The Tenth is imbued with references to his beloved wife and his mental and physical predicament. Ironically, Alma Mahler-Werfel sought completion of the Tenth and asked Ernst Krenek to prepare a version for performance in 1924. Two movements were prepared from the Adagio, and the third movement Purgatory, and Alban Berg, Franz Schalk and Alexander Zemlinsky contributed to producing a version for performance in October 1924. Most interestingly, Mahler’s great friend and promoter, Willem Mengelberg, with Cornelius Dopper, made a version from these two movements and performed the Tenth in November 1924 in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw, after which it was performed several times.
Following these attempts, several composers have tried to produce performing editions incorporating all five movements; Clinton Carpenter’s 1966 version used fragments from all of Mahler’s symphonies, while Joseph Wheeler in 1965, and Remo Mazzetti Jnr both reconstructed the Tenth copying the composer’s style of writing. The Scottish composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson made a version for piano performance; however, Deryck Cooke’s third attempt at using Mahler’s sketches of all five movements has become most widely accepted as a performing version by orchestras worldwide.
Cooke first worked on the Tenth notably without calling it a completion, but rather a version for performance, and used the remaining sketches as best he could to create an acceptable symphony. In this, Cooke was assisted by Colin and David Matthews, and the composer/conductor Berthold Goldschmidt. When she heard a recording in 1964, Alma gave her approval for performance.
In the opening Adagio, the theme on the violas sounded mysteriously ominous before a secondary lyrical idea introduced by the violins brought an expansive development and variations distinguished by virtuosic solo passages from the solo violin, cello, and viola. This beautiful passage of spellbinding tension was broken suddenly by the brass. This initiated the massed strings into a passage of almost rhapsodic joy, interrupted only by a quirky solo from the piccolo of Helen Benson.
In the first brief Scherzo, the bright woodwind was full of life, embracing the elegant yet outlandish idea that led to a soulful solo trumpet passage from Jonathan Quirk interrupted by a sudden crash from the cymbals that closed this buoyant movement. In the ambiguous third movement, Purgatory. Allegro moderato, the oboe of Lucie Sprague, announced a tentative idea, which was assisted by the poised flute playing of Marie-Christine Zupancic. An idiom of ghostly nocturnal figures seemed to traverse the stage in woodwind playing that invoked grief and unworldly feelings.
In the second Scherzo, a sinister-like drama entered on the agitated strings and woodwind assisted with supple intonation from the Sprague’s oboe and rising to a crash on the cymbals and a solo violin passage from Eugene Tzindelean. This contrasted with the elegiac theme on the woodwind and the strident trumpet of Quirk that repeated the rather leaden theme, ‘Ah, God! Farewell, my lyre!’ leading directly to the final movement with a great thud on the percussion and tuba, horn, and repeated blows from the military drum that heralded a heavenly solo on Zupancic’s flute. Now a majestically beautiful life-affirming passage from the strings was interrupted only by the tuba of Andrew McCade and the thunderous percussion. Attempting to restore the brighter mood, the woodwind shrieked in desperation, increasing to an unworldly theme – yet only leading to the horns summoning a deathly sadness. The strings introduced once more the lyrical idea aided by the harp in a sequence of unearthly beauty before slowly dying away and rising once more in a final wave of ecstasy.
The performance by the orchestra was excellent, with several outstanding virtuoso passages, most notably by the woodwind and the brass section. The orchestra leader Eugene Tzindelean performed several exquisite solos throughout the immense performance, while the conducting of Robert Trevino was masterly bringing out all the colour and passion of the score and ensured a powerfully impassioned reading of this symphony. In the past, I have had reservations about the performing version by Deryck Cooke, yet on this occasion, I was totally convinced by this tremendous performance and interpretation.