MAHLER: Symphony No. 10 (Carpenter ed.). QIGANG: Five Elements
Singapore Symphony Orch/Lan Shui, cond.
AVIE 2217 (DVD)
AVIE 2011 (BLU RAY DVD)
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The Singapore Symphony Orchestra and their young conductor, Lan Shui, are marvelous in this Mahler performance, and the warm acoustics of the impressive Esplanade Concert Hall in Singapore enhance their sound. No, it is not Abbado and the Lucerne or Rattle at the Philarmonie—but it is very good. What is open to question is the version of the Mahler 10th that was used.

Mahler had finished a phase of his musical and personal life after his 8th symphony, and the 10th struck out in yet another new direction. Additionally, during it's composition Mahler learned of his beloved young wife Alma's unfaithfulness and was deeply devastated. However, he was at the absolute height of his compositional powers as he began work on the l0th, and completed the entire score in 4 stave short score draft as well as the full orchestration of the first, part of the second, and the first 30 bars of the third movement Then he put the symphony aside to touch up Symphony No. 9, written in the previous year. This 4 stave technique was standard for Mahler, so one would know pretty much where he was going. Of course he never left his works alone, revising details, markings, and tempi again and again. But the form seldom changed markedly. The completed sections suggest four flutes, piccolo, four oboes, four clarinets, three bassoons, two contra bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, tuba, four trombones, two sets of timpani, tam tam, military drum (to be muffled), harp and strings. After his death in May of 1911, Alma Mahler put the work aside, and it was the1920's before she considered allowing any attempt at preparing a version for performance. In 1923 she introduced a copy of the entire score with the completed Adagio and Purgatorio (1st and 3rd movements) to Willlem Mengleberg with the note that the lst and 3rd were “absolutely performable”. His revision was premiered by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1924. The flood gates were opened. The Clinton Carpenter version (started in 1946 and revised in 1966) and more famously the Deryck Cooke versions. entered the repertory as well as several other more recent versions. Cooke became the version of choice since it remained most true to the original. Carpenter elaborated on the original, enlarging the orchestra, dynamics and often the score itself. His version, used in the Singapore release, often quotes from earlier Mahler, and you can play the game of “which symphony did that fragment come from” endlessly. There are major quotes from Das Lied von der Erde, Symphony No. 6, and even Symphony No. 1. And there is much more attention paid to drums and percussion. This is music for those who want to be more comfortable with this strange new Mahler. But is it really Mahler or Mahler-Carpenter? Indeed Cooke called his take on all this a Performing Version, while Carpenter named his "The Completed Version." A bit audacious indeed.
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But either way, this is sublime music. The adagio, most familiar to us all, is complex, different and lovely. The first scherzo has two brilliant and exciting sections separated by a joyful ländler. The Purgatorio is short and surprising, the second scherzo starts with a Devil's dance then ends with a coda using both timpanists, bass drum and large military drum. Mahler wrote “Ah! God! Farewell my lyre!” on the score. The tympani leads into some of the most beautiful music Mahler ever composed featuring one of the most heart-rendering melodies ever written for the flute. Symphony 10 ends peacefully, as did Das lied and Symphony 9. On the final page of the score Mahler wrote to Alma, “To live for you! To die for you!”

Which version to buy? Your choice. My choice – both. This recording was reviewed from the blue ray disc with DTS-HD Master Audio surround. No recording wih this state-of-the-art technology exists of the Cooke version of Mahler's masterpiece except the Simon Rattle DVD with his Berlin orchestra in the DVD Audio issue which, unfortunately, is no longer in the catalog. Rattle's performance was also issued on CD (EMI Classics 56972). He has likely played the 10th more than anyone, making it sort of a signature piece. The late Roger Dettmer reviewed the CD issue of this in July 2000 (REVIEW), and R.E.B. reviewed the later DVD Audio issue (REVIEW). On CD there also are recordings of the Cooke version by Michael Gielen and the South-West German Radio-Symphony Orchestra (Hännsler Classics 93124), Simon Rattle with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (EMI Classics 54406) and the pioneering Columbia 1965 version with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (they had just given the American premiere), now available on Sony (67874). And we also have a SACD of the Carpenter version with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra on RCA  (76895). Several major conductors, including Abbado, Bernstein, Haitink, and Kubelik have not played the 10th past the first movement. But as Mahler musicologist Jack Diether put it. "It is much more important that what Mahler wrote should be heard than that which he did not write should not be heard." I agree.

Filling out this release is Wo Xing (The Five Elements) by Chen Qu-gang, a gifted Chinese composer and colleague of Lan Shui. The Elements consists of 5 short works (each of which can represent several different things): Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. This lovely work, as realized by Avie's production staff, is photographed as a musically and visually fascinating juxtaposition of color and music, contrasted with the Mahler, which is excellent but with fairly conventional camera technique with many shots of the hall and directly into lights for effect. There are subtitles and a short booklet in English, German, French, and 3 oriental languages, along with a short discussion of each work in English by Lan Shui, of whom I am sure we will hear much more. This release is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

L.R.M. (June 2011)