Mahler/Cooke: Symphony No 10 – review

Philharmonia/London SO/Goldschmidt (Testament, three CDs)

Deryck Cooke's "performing version" of Mahler's final, unfinished symphony is now comfortably the most frequently performed and recorded of the various completions of the 10th (at least six others so far) that have appeared over the last half-century. What began as part of the celebrations for the Mahler centenary in 1960 occupied Cooke up to his death in 1976, and his third and final version, on which the conductor and composer Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews also collaborated at various times, was eventually published in 1989.

Testament's utterly compelling set, taken from BBC archive recordings, chronicles the first stages of Cooke's elaboration. It begins with the radio talk he gave in 1960, in which he discusses the material for the 10th Symphony as Mahler left it, what was completely finished and fully scored (the first and third movements), what was a musical continuity but almost entirely lacked orchestration (the finale), and what was left in fragmentary form (the second and fourth-movement scherzos), and detailing what he had done to make the torso playable. The second disc then contains the studio performance that Goldschmidt conducted immediately afterwards, with an announcer placing the fragments of the incomplete movements in context.

For the first public performance of the 10th four years later at the Proms, which was again conducted by Goldschmidt and takes up the third disc, Cooke had filled in the gaps, composing the short passages that were missing from Mahler's manuscript of the second and fourth movement, and refining his orchestration of the rest using further sketches that had come to light since the start of his work. It's a fine performance, in which Goldschmidt gives the opening Adagio considerable more space than he does in his surprisingly brisk 1960 performance, though his later timing is still two and a half minutes quicker than Zinman's in his new recording. But there are a number of outstanding performances of the 10th available; what makes this set so special is the way it documents what Cooke achieved, and the musical skill with which he did it.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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