Mahler/Cooke: Symphony No 10 review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Minnesota O/Osmo Vänskä
Part of his cycle of works by Mahler, Vänskä’s stoic approach pays dividends in the composer’s unfinished work, with unswerving instrumental detail

Over the last 60 years there have been at least seven completions of the symphony that Gustav Mahler left unfinished at his death in 1911. But it’s the “performing version” of the 10th by Deryck Cooke, which he worked on between 1960 and 1976 with the help of composers Berthold Goldschmidt and David and Colin Matthews, that has become the most widely played and recorded version of this final masterpiece.

Mahler/Cooke: Symphony No 10 Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänska album cover

By no means all leading Mahler interpreters have taken up Cooke’s completion (or any of the alternative versions for that matter); some, such as Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink and Klaus Tennstedt, have preferred to conduct only the opening Adagio of the 10th, one of the two movements the composer left in a more or less finished state. But Osmo Vänskä has now recorded the Cooke score as part of his Mahler cycle with the Minnesota Orchestra; it’s arguably the finest instalment of that continuing project so far, and belongs alongside the performances by Simon Rattle, Thomas Dausgaard and Riccardo Chailly as one of the finest Mahler 10s on disc.

The previous releases in Vänskä’s cycle have shown that he never fusses with this music or overinterprets Mahler, and that neutral, stoic approach pays dividends in the 10th. His tempi may be generally on the slow side – this account of the opening Adagio is one of the most expansive on disc, and that of the central Purgatorio does lack demonic intensity. But the Minnesota Orchestra plays magnificently, and Vänskä’s meticulous attention to instrumental detail and to the weighting of every chord, and his unswerving sense of symphonic coherence and continuity, make the total effect overwhelming.

This week’s other pick

For a very different take on Mahler’s final musical testament, there’s the version on Ars Produktion from Ensemble Mini, a German group apparently committed to “addressing the need to make classical music cool for the 21st century”. Conducted by Joolz Gale, they’ve already recorded an arrangement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony for 17 players and their version of the 10th uses a completion for ensemble by Michelle Castelletti, made in the tradition of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, at which many chamber arrangements of large-scale orchestral works were performed between 1919 and 1921.

Leaving aside the issue of whether the result is “cool” or not, it’s certainly a beautifully played curiosity, and provides an interesting, pared-down perspective on the symphony, constantly emphasising the stylistic links between late Mahler and the Second Viennese School, even if that’s at the expense of any contrast between the work’s weighty climaxes and its moments of chamber-music-like transparency.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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