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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10 (Michael Gielen)


Composer: Gustav Mahler
  1. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Cooke, 1976 version): I. Andante - Adagio
  2. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Cooke, 1976 version): II. Scherzo. Schnelle Viertel - Plötzlich viel langsamer. Gemächliches Ländler-Tempo - Tempo I
  3. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Cooke, 1976 version): III. Purgatorio. Allegretto moderato
  4. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Cooke, 1976 version): IV. [Scherzo]. Allegro pesante. Nicht zu schnell - Bedeutend langsamer. Schattenhaft
  5. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor (Cooke, 1976 version): V. Finale. Einleitung. Langsam, schwer - Allegro moderato - Andante (Tempo des Anfangs der Sinfonie) - Adagio

SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Michael Gielen, conductor
Date: 2005
Label: Hänssler Classic




This is without a doubt the finest Mahler 10th currently available, and a performance that more than any other vindicates Deryck Cooke's work as the closest to what the composer's intentions must have been at the moment of his death. As Gielen himself points out in his more-coherent-than-usual comments in the accompanying booklet, by letting the score's bare bones remain, and only doing minimal filling out of contrapuntal lines and textures, Cooke allows us to hear just how much Mahler there really is in the piece as it stands. In the hands of a great Mahler conductor, which Gielen certainly is, there's more than enough meat on this particular skeleton to offer a fully satisfying listening experience, and he achieves this by sticking to the fundamentals: clear textures, idiomatic phrasing, and a deep understanding of Mahler's particular sound-world.

The opening Adagio is taken a couple of minutes more slowly than on Gielen's previous recording (of that movement only), but this only serves to heighten the music's passion and intensity, with the two main tempo areas strongly and purposefully characterized. The big climax has seldom sounded so expressionistic, but also organically in its correct place. Gielen's handling of dynamics, the way he makes the screaming trumpet dovetail into the violins' descending answer, reveals just how imaginatively he solves the various problems of phrasing raised by the music's incomplete state. In the second movement, by ensuring absolute clarity of its contrapuntal lines, he gets the piece to sound far more detailed and filled-out than usual, and he reinstates the cymbal crash at the very end (rightly so). As might be expected, the Purgatorio is full of menace, with huge freedom of tempo in the central section, and a particularly ominous conclusion.

In Gielen's hands the second scherzo attains a rare cogency and logic, not by minimizing its inherent contrasts, but by maximizing them. For example, by underlining those two nasty opening chords and the initial snare drum roll, they come to serve a structural function whenever they return, clarifying the music's onward progress. Recognizing these important gestural elements is critical to any successful Mahler performance. Gielen also puts the xylophone part back in at the opening, which helps to outline the music's main motives, and the ghostly coda has seldom sounded so idiomatically natural. A single drum stroke joins the fourth and fifth movements, another correct decision. After a positively terrifying introduction, Gielen finds more rapture in the flute/violin cantilena than any previous performance, partly a consequence of bringing out the countermelodies in the strings.

Exceptional contrapuntal clarity and a good, swift tempo go a long way to making the central allegro section snap and snarl as it should, and Gielen wisely opts not to add extra percussion to the dissonant climax, after indulging us with a positively cataclysmic crash from cymbals and tam-tam. I'm not saying it can't work with some extra stuff in the noise department, but no one has succeeded yet with their various solutions, so best not to make the attempt. Once again the concluding string outpouring rises to expressive heights that other performances merely hint at, and the final pages are poetry incarnate. Fabulous playing from the SWR orchestra, stunning sonics, and a single-disc format provide the gratifying final touches on a gripping experience that no Mahlerian can afford to miss. [10/14/2005]

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


Michael Gielen (born 20 July 1927 in Dresden, Germany) is an Austrian conductor and composer. He began his career as a pianist in Buenos Aires, where he studied with Erwin Leuchter. He was principal conductor of the Belgian National Orchestra (1969–73), the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1980–86) and of the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra (1986–99), which he has been closely associated with since. He has demonstrated a mastery of the most complex contemporary scores, and he has given many premières, including György Ligeti's Requièm. As a composer, Gielen has elaborated on the tradition of the Second Viennese School. He retired from conducting in 2014.


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