Mahler: Symphony X CD review – insubstantial additions to an unfinished work

International Mahler Orchestra/Gamzou

The version of Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony that Deryck Cooke refined over a quarter of a century with help from composers Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews is now, by a long way, the most frequently performed and recorded of the multiple attempts to make the whole symphony viable in the concert hall. The list of those attempts begins with the 1950s work of US musicologist Clinton Carpenter, and the latest name to be added to it is that of conductor Yoel Gamzou; his “realisation and elaboration of the unfinished drafts” of the symphony was first performed in Berlin in 2010 by the International Mahler Orchestra, which Gamzou himself founded.

While others who have worked on Mahler’s sketches and drafts have followed Ernst Krenek – who, in the 1920s, had pronounced the great opening Adagio more or less complete and performable as Mahler left it – Gamzou begins his elaborations even in that first movement, though they hardly alter the shape and massive impact of the music as a whole. They are more a distraction than anything else, though less distracting than the extremes of dynamics he employs and the exaggerated slowness in the opening section. As the work goes on, and Mahler’s draft becomes more skeletal, Gamzou’s interpolations get more intrusive – there are extra tangles of woodwind in the Scherzo, and superfluous growling bassoons punctuating the bare, bleak opening of the Finale, as well as a reminiscence of the symphony’s first movement interpolated into its closing pages.

None of these additions seems to add anything substantial to what, thanks to Cooke and his assistants, we already know of this extraordinary work. But, though what Gamzou has done may sometimes seem superfluous, it never traduces the spirit of Mahler’s original, just as his choice of tempi and often self-indulgent rubato tend to be irritating rather than destructive. There are transfiguring moments in his performance, too: the long flute solo that floats over hushed strings near the beginning of the Finale is as beautiful as it’s ever been on disc. Mahlerians will certainly want to hear what this all adds up to, even though they will probably revert to their own favourite performances of the Cooke version afterwards.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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