double play

Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes on... Mahler: Symphony No 10 (ed Remo Mazzetti Jr) Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra / Leonard Slatkin (RCA/BMG 09026 68190 2)
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Only one person could have completed it - and he didn't. But that said, Mahler's unfinished Tenth was too intriguing never to have made the leap from "might have been" to "what if...?". Joseph Wheeler (England) and Clinton Carpenter (USA) were the first to ask, the first to take up Mahler's sketches and peek into their crystal balls - Wheeler with extreme caution (his "completion" is the sparest, the least speculative of all), Carpenter with a composerly audacity (shamelessly crossing the line between "editing" and "invention"). Deryck Cooke followed, initially unaware that others were similarly engaged. And finally (well, I say finally, but we cannot have heard the last of this musicological "dig"): Remo Mazzetti Jr, the first since Cooke to receive a commercial recording.

The liner notes tell us that Mazzetti undertook his performing edition in the belief that Carpenter had gone too far, and Wheeler and Cooke not far enough in their endeavours. And since Leonard Slatkin is an astute Mahlerian, there must be something here to chew on. There is. Plenty. But the scale of Cooke's achievement is reaffirmed ever more strongly in the comparisons. Cooke, more than Mazzetti, and certainly more than Carpenter, models his edition on the sonic and stylistic guidelines laid down in Mahler's completed first movement. It's the only viable insight we have into the workings of Mahler's mind at the time.

A new and painfully clear-sighted kind of Mahler is emerging - a beginning, not an end. Now it's true Mahler may well have lived to revise that movement in the light of the others, but on the basis of what exists, Cooke's remaining movements are entirely in keeping with the spare, linear objectivity of their predecessor. Mazzetti generally puts more on the page; he's freer with the counterpoint, and much too free with the percussion, making pointed allusions to the scherzo of the Ninth Symphony with his bass drum and cymbal writing (to say nothing of an over-used and unconvincing snare drum). And he's quick to "develop" the quirkier aspects of the sketches. It's amazing how a couple of extra voices and shifts of emphasis in the dynamics can throw an entirely different perspective on the harmony (and consequently the music).

Mazzetti's second scherzo is much more Bergian in its ambiguities than Cooke's. But is he clouding the issue, is he compromising Mahler's new- found clarity of utterance? I'm inclined to think so; I think Cooke would have thought so, too. Other "choices" regarding colour and instrumentation are debatable. I favour Cooke's louring tuba (echoes of Fafner) over Mazzetti's solo double-bass and harp (allusions to both the First and Sixth Symphonies) at the outset of the finale. And I certainly think that he (Mazzetti) diminishes the chastity of Mahler's inspirational flute melody by filling out the supporting texture and effecting more movement in the harmony (Cooke floats his flute on gossamer string chordings, with added harp adagietto-style).

As for the unforgettable final pages (and are they not reason enough to have released this music into the public domain?), Mazzetti is again too fussy, passing the material between instrumental groups (as he is wont to do) when it will sit just as comfortably with one. Close comparisons with Cooke (and serious Mahler enthusiasts will want to make them) tend to magnify Mazzetti's idiosyncrasies. Cooke assumes only Mahler's. I suggest the Chailly recording on Decca. ES

It is hard to listen to Deryck Cooke's famous "performing version" of the sketches for Mahler's last symphony without feeling that the bones could do with a little extra flesh here and there. Remo Mazzetti Jr isn't the first to want to help the Cooke score along a little and he almost certainly won't be the last. The problems really start when he tries to help Mahler. The composer hadn't quite finalised the scoring of the opening Adagio, and some cosmetic attention may be in order; but Mazzetti's added bass drum and timpani rolls (he's awfully fond of them) are more like cosmetic surgery, and often all they do is muddy the texture or the harmonies. For many, the long flute solo in the finale is one of the most touching things in late Mahler, so why hand the last phrases over to clarinet and oboe? To me it sounds like re-scoring for the sake of re- scoring.

It's in the finale that Mazzetti's re-working is most obtrusive. Occasionally he brings a shaft of insight - yes, one feels, Mahler might well have added that colour or tweaked that harmonic progression. But where Cooke adds colour carefully, using the notes as his guide, Mazzetti piles on the paint, adding unlikely doublings and focusing attention on details at the expense of the long, singing lines - the one element in the sketches Mahler did fix beyond almost any doubt. Perhaps Slatkin's performance doesn't help: I'm much less aware of the lyrical and dramatic continuity in the two scherzos than in either the Rattle (EMI) or Chailly (Decca) versions. But Slatkin obviously puts his heart into the final pages, which only makes the inevitable added drum-roll in the concluding "sigh" all the more rebarbative; and oh for Deryck Cooke's soft horns at the end - that really was a touch of genius. SJ