C1734. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orchestra: Symphony #10 in F-sharp (Mahler; 1st Deryck Cooke Version). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-873, Live Performance, 19-20 May, 1966, Orchestra Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"After Deryck Cooke released his performing edition of Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony in the Sixties, the rush was on to conduct it. Alma Mahler had at first disapproved of Cooke’s efforts, but with her blessing his completed edition was premiered by Berthold Goldschmidt at the BBC Proms in the summer of 1964. There were further revisions after Alma died that December and her daughter Anna gave Cooke access to manuscript sketches that hadn’t been previously published. When Jean Martinon performed the work with the Chicago Symphony in 1966, only the original Cooke edition was available (he worked on Cooke II, as it is known, between 1966 and 1972 in collaboration with the composers and brothers David and Colin Matthews).
A glance at Martinon’s total timing will raise eyebrows. Using the same version, Eugene Ormandy’s recording for Columbia Records takes 70 minutes, and Simon Rattle’s acclaimed account with the Berlin Philharmonic using Cooke’s final version takes over 77 minutes. When listening to Martinon, the sense of added speed is most pronounced in the first two movements, the all-but-finished Adagio and the first Scherzo. There’s an effect of urgency in both, but it is really in the Adagio that Martinon makes us hear the music quite differently. By taking only 21 minutes where Klaus Tennstedt takes 28 minutes (EMI/Warner), Claudio Abbado 24 minutes, and Leonard Bernstein 26 minutes (both DG), Martinon transforms the Adagio from tragic solemnity to a heightened struggle between light and darkness, beginning in lyricism, ending in panic.
The chief excitement of this performance derives from the same urgency throughout the first four movements. The virtuosity of the CSO keeps us on the edge of our seats, not with Solti’s volatile pressure but with much more variety of mood and tone. World-class orchestras can convey an ease in their technical prowess, making everything sound effortless. Solti rarely called upon this quality in his Mahler (almost the opposite); Martinon does. Tension and release proceed naturally, and the result is more musical than with Solti’s relentless driven power.
The great revelation of Cooke’s first version was the finale, which had seemed too sketchy to turn into finished music. Various other completions alter the character of this movement fairly drastically by clothing it in very different orchestration. Rattle can afford a very slow timing of 24 minutes thanks to the eloquent first-desk soloists in the Berlin Philharmonic. Martinon had the same advantage but is four minutes faster, making the pace more flowing - the tempo feels more like a true Adagio, however, than the first movement, so the finale is now the Symphony’s slow movement. Martinon also cuts through the controversy over the bass drum thwacks at the outset by simply asking for ordinary drum strokes, neither startling cannon shots nor muffled funeral drums, which were the original inspiration.
What we have, then, is an important addition to the Tenth Symphony’s discography, and gratitude is owed to St. Laurent Studio’s new release, since the original release was the CSO’s centennial box set of 12 CDs in 1990, always expensive and now out of print. It is Martinon and not Pierre Boulez who deserves to be considered the first major Mahler exponent from France, and it helps cement his reputation that St. Laurent Studio also released an excellent Mahler Third from Chicago recorded in 1967 (reviewed in FANFARE 43:2). Serious Mahler collectors will want to hear both. The source material comes from WFMT radio broadcasts and is excellent for its time.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“In the words of one of his biographers, conductor Jean Martinon's performances ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. Occasionally ‘he stressed a poetic inflection at the expense of literal accuracy’.
Martinon's first instrument was the violin; he studied at the Lyons Conservatory (1924-1925), then transferred to the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1928. He subsequently studied composition with Albert Roussel, and conducting with Charles Munch and Roger Desormière. Until the outbreak of World War II Martinon was primarily a composer. His early substantial works include a Symphoniette for piano, percussion, and strings (1935); Symphony #1 (1936); Concerto giocoso for violin and orchestra (1937); and a wind quintet (1938). At the start of the war he was drafted into the French army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he passed the next two years in a Nazi labor camp. There, he wrote 'Stalag IX’ (Musique d'exil), an orchestral piece incorporating elements of jazz; during his internment, he also composed several religious works, including ’Absolve’, ‘Domine’ for male chorus and orchestra, and ‘Psalm 136’ (Chant des captifs), the latter receiving a composition prize from the city of Paris in 1946.
Upon his release from the Nazi camp Martinon became conductor of the Bordeaux Symphony Orchestra (from 1943 to 1945) and assistant conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (from 1944 to 1946), then associate conductor of the London Philharmonic (from 1947 to 1949). He toured as a guest conductor as well, although his U.S. début did not come until 1957, with the Boston Symphony giving the American premiere of his Symphony #2. Although he devoted as much time as he could to composing in the early postwar years -- producing a string quartet (1946), an ‘Irish’ Symphony (1948), the ballet ‘Ambohimang’a (1946), and the opera HÉCUBE (1949-1954) -- he was increasingly occupied with conducting, working with the Concerts Lamoureux (from 1951 to 1957), the Israel Philharmonic (from 1957 to 1959), and Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra (from 1960 to 1966). Martinon resumed his career as a composer around 1960, writing his Violin Concerto #2 (1960) for Henryk Szeryng, his Cello Concerto (1964) for Pierre Fournier, and his Symphony #4 (‘Altitudes’), composed in 1965, for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. He acknowledged Prokofiev and Bartók as strong influences on his scores, which meld Expressionism with French Neoclassicism. Martinon continued composing into the 1970s, but he seldom recorded any of his own music, with the notable exceptions of the Second Symphony, ‘Hymne à la vie’ (ORTF, for Barclay Inedits) and Fourth Symphony, ‘Altitudes"’ (Chicago SO, for RCA).
In 1963, he succeeded Fritz Reiner as head of the Chicago Symphony. Martinon's tenure there was difficult. In five seasons he conducted 60 works by modern European and American composers, and made a number of outstanding LPs for RCA, mostly of bracing twentieth century repertory in audiophile sound. Chicago's conservative music lovers soon sent him packing.
Martinon jumped at the chance to take over the French National Radio Orchestra in 1968; working with this ensemble he recorded almost the entire standard French repertory for Erato and EMI. His earlier Erato efforts that focused on such secondary but nevertheless interesting figures as Roussel, Pierné, and Dukas, whereas EMI assigned him integral sets of the Saint-Saëns symphonies and the orchestral works of Debussy and Ravel, among other projects. In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, but he died before that relationship could bear much fruit.”
- James Reel, allmusic.com