C1734. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orchestra: Symphony #10 in F-sharp (Mahler). (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