C1826. JEAN MARTINON Cond. ORTF S.O.: Symphony #10 in F-sharp (Mahler; 1st Deryck Cooke Version). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-874, Live Performance, 27 May, 1970, Orchestra Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Deryck Cooke’s performing edition of the Mahler Tenth was premiered by Berthold Goldschmidt at the BBC Proms in August, 1964, a fitting choice that had overlapping significance. A German Jew, Goldschmidt’s life as composer and conductor was destroyed by the rise of the Nazis. He was fortunate to escape to England in 1935 (ironically, on the advice of an SS officer). Eventually he helped Cooke in completing a performing score of the unfinished Tenth Symphony where many thought the task nearly impossible from the sketches Mahler left behind in various stages of completion.
‘Cooke I’, as the edition came to be known, gained fame in America from a pivotal recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1965. This is a well-known part of the symphony’s lore, but few remember that ‘Cooke I’ was never published or heard after 1966, since he had completed his first revision by then. Besides Ormandy’s recording, the other notable American performance was under Jean Martinon with the Chicago Symphony in 1966. I reviewed an excellent remastering from St. Laurent Studio in FANFARE 43:3, remarking that the great revelation of Cooke I was the finale, which he rescued from a skeletal condition. Martinon had a special touch in that movement, even compared with Simon Rattle’s acclaimed recording with the Berlin Philharmonic: ‘Martinon is four minutes faster, making the pace flow naturally - the tempo feels more like a true Adagio, however, than the first movement, so the finale is now the symphony’s slow movement’.
I feel justified in that comment listening to this new Mahler Tenth under Martinon from Paris in 1970, which has several points that deserve consideration. The Chicago reading was fast compared with the Ormandy (66 minutes as against Ormandy’s 70), while Rattle, using Cooke’s final version, is slower still at 77 minutes. Here in Paris, Martinon is more urgent than ever, cutting another two minutes off his total timing. He underscores the shift I had mentioned. The opening Adagio feels considerably quicker, and the finale becomes the Tenth’s true slow movement, the calm after many storms. Few conductors have made such a dramatic shift.
After a troubled relationship with the orchestra in Chicago, Martinon departed in 1968, departing under a cloud as far as American audiences and reviewers were concerned. But he hardly vanished from sight in his native France, and without much notice he became France’s strongest advocate for Mahler. The musicians of the Radio France National Orchestra play with evident enthusiasm in this broadcast concert, and more significantly, they play with discipline and a keen regard for Mahler’s style, two things one hardly expected at the time.
It probably takes a special interest in the evolution of Mahler performance in France to add a second Mahler Tenth under Martinon to your collection, but there’s nothing else quite like his speed in the first Scherzo and the clucking of the thin, piping French oboes. Something of Hermann Scherchen’s style is evident. What I most relish is that the whole reading has personality; too often this symphony feels cautious in standard performances. The second Scherzo not only has sharp angles but a touch of hysteria, which seems very Mahlerian. The extended flute solo in the finale is quite beautiful, as you’d expect in France. Oddly, the bass drum strokes that open the movement are played on timpani instead unless my ears have completely betrayed me.
Even if this release turns out to be of purely archival interest, it is very gratifying that producer Yves St.-Laurent has preserved it, and in excellent FM-quality stereo. The audience, although not silent, isn’t intrusive. Inevitably, someone coughs in the silences between the drum stokes in the finale, but at least it’s soft coughing. Overall, I find myself offering an unexpectedly warm recommendation.”
- 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