Déjà Review: this review was first published in July 2003 and the recording is still available.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Symphony No.10 (1910-11, completed by Clinton A. Carpenter)
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. 2001, McDermott Hall, Dallas, USA
Delos DE3295 [79]

During the last months of his life, Mahler worked on the final draft and orchestration of his Symphony No. 10, which he had written in short score the previous summer at his holiday home at Toblach in the Dolomites. The sketches left at the time of his death were for a five-movement symphony, following the precedent of his Fifth and Seventh, and although these were more complete in some parts than others, enough material remained to show that the music bore the stamp of the composer’s unique genius.

The first and third movements were practically complete; following editorial work by Ernst Krenek, Alexander von Zemlinsky and Franz Schalk, these were performed in Vienna under the latter’s direction in 1924. During the 1940s the American Mahler authority Jack Diether approached both Dimitri Shostakovich and Arnold Schoenberg about completing the symphony, but they declined. But as the years passed and the advent of the long-playing record brought Mahler’s music greater recognition, several talented musicians turned their attention to the incomplete score. In 1960 the British musicologist Deryck Cooke completed his ‘performing version’, and this was soon performed and recorded, gaining the music a wide currency. And in 1976 the full score was published, incorporating a complete transcription of the sketches. Thus the Symphony no. 10 has gradually moved to a position in the regular orchestral repertory.

Although Cooke’s version remains the most frequently performed, his is by no means the only option. The American musicologist Clinton Carpenter, for example, worked on his version at the same time as Cooke’s was being prepared. He had first encountered the sketches as early as 1946, and his work moved gradually through various phases; from piano score to piano four hands and finally on to full orchestra. As he proceeded so he continued his studies of the other Mahler symphonies, in order to refine his understanding of the composer’s musical personality and technique.

Carpenter finally completed his version in 1966, then made further revisions through to 1982. He has articulated his views as follows: ‘The work of Deryck Cooke in furthering the cause of the Tenth Symphony is incalculable. But my version is different and I am naturally partial to it.’ He views the Symphony as a darker work than did Cooke, closer in spirit to the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), and the orchestration certainly reflects this.

Although several distinguished conductors – Solti, Haitink and Bernstein, for instance – have declined to conduct the complete version, the opening Adagio has been firmly accepted, since it is Mahler’s own work save for a few deficiencies of tempo indications, expression marks and dynamics. The movement has much in common with the finale of the Symphony no. 9, charting an intensely expressive course which is largely determined by the character of its passionate and often dissonant main theme.

It is clear that the search for consolation is as fundamental here as it had been in the both the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. For Mahler knew of his heart condition, and the wide-spaced intervals of the principal theme, which follows the opening line of the violas, assert a challenge to fate which is balanced by the resigned nature of the second phase of the movement. The climax, or crisis, comes in the form of a massive organ-like chant leading on to a dissonance based on a nine-note chord of frankly terrifying intensity. After this the search for consolation continues until the final phase achieves a mood of serene valediction.

Andrew Litton’s performance, like all others, starts from this point of reference, and it does so impressively. Tempi have been carefully chosen, and there is a sincerity and conviction about the project that communicates itself strongly and rings true. For this conductor is an experienced Mahlerian, in the recording studio but more than that in concert halls on either side of the Atlantic. He draws excellent playing from the members of the Dallas Symphony, and the Delos engineers deliver a splendid and truthful recorded sound.

The second movement Scherzo, sketched by Mahler in full score, has a main theme whose taut rhythmic impetus dispels the valedictory mood. The scoring is skilful and convincing, a little heavier and darker than Cooke’s perhaps, but always feeling right.

The opening section of the short Purgatorio was left complete, thus providing a clear indication of the nature of the whole movement. This is among Mahler’s most daemonic creations, with an ostinato (repeated) rhythm which recalls his song Das Irdische Leben (Life on Earth), in which a starving child pleads to its mother for bread. It is therefore significant that the closing gesture is a hollow-sounding disintegration, and again Litton’s view of the movement seems entirely idiomatic.

The fourth movement is another Scherzo, featuring the contrasting imageries of waltz and lament. There is the poignant beauty of the lyrical music set against increasingly dissonant harmonic clashes, and while Carpenter’s sophisticated textures might to some extent militate against strong characterisation of this material, there is sufficient ebb and flow to generate the tensions which find ultimate release in the finale, which in so many respects contains the most powerful music.

The finale follows directly out of the fourth movement, and begins with a muffled drum-stroke, an image, according to the composer’s wife Alma, related directly to an incident which occurred while they were staying at the Hotel Majestic in New York, when the funeral cortège of a fireman, whose heroic death had been reported in the newspapers, passed beneath their window. ‘The scene brought tears to our eyes’, she wrote in her ‘Memories and Letters’. Carpenter’s version of the bass drum is much more muffled and restrained than the bolder strokes found in Cooke’s. The latter are particularly dramatic and launch the finale in a compelling way. Clinton’s dynamic is less indulgent, but the effect of the gesture is also less impressive, almost a disappointment.

There follows a wonderful lyrical melody, which builds towards a richly passionate affirmation. Here too the Cooke version is bolder and more compelling, with a wonderful and extended solo for the flute, a real gift for a talented player (as both the Simon Rattle versions show us). In Carpenter the scoring is more complex, and in a sense more sophisticated; but it also makes less impact and the music fails to convey the intense feelings that the Cooke version contains. It is a crucial comparison, THE crucial comparison. At length the progress of this noble and serene theme is halted by the abrupt return of the drum and the solemn music associated with it. Suddenly the tempo swings to a violent Allegro and the intensity rises to a shattering climax featuring once again the first movement’s dissonant chord. And out of this crisis the lyrical melody resumes its progress, moving the Symphony on towards a conclusion which speaks only of tenderness and love.

If a collection is to contain just a single performance of this music, then the Cooke version in either of Rattle’s performance’s (EMI), or equally recommendable, those of Inbal (Denon) or Chailly (Decca), is to be preferred. But Mahler’s Tenth is a special case, and we do not know quite how Mahler would have left it had he completed it. Therefore the discerning collector should be more open-minded. To be sure, the majority view will not place Carpenter’s version at the top of the list, but nor should it be dismissed. It is well worth investigating, and with a top-rate Mahler conductor in charge of a top class orchestra, this recording demands serious attention.

Terry Barfoot

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music