Simon Rattle has championed Deryck Cooke’s performing version of Mahler 10 throughout his career and recorded it twice. There was a time when numerous attempts to complete the Tenth or, as in Cooke’s case, generate a work that can be performed solely based upon Mahler’s sketches were proffered. But several have been withdrawn and others have been cast aside. Cooke made three versions, only the last of which is published.
This LSO performance began with a mildly sorrowful rendition of the violas’ Andante theme. Rattle’s legato approach made the contrasting Adagio idea sound gushingly romantic, smoothing out the stark character of its wide leaps, plunges and thrusts that make it appear pitifully morose. The scherzando material had an appropriately demonic mien engendered by razor-sharp staccatos in the woodwinds. The sense of profound sorrow generated became ever more intense as this movement proceeded to its crisis point. Here the violins suddenly return to the quietude of the Andante theme, now mysterious and foreboding, ushering in a sudden huge outburst. Although this chord should shock us, the explosion was too tentative, undermined by a strangling brass entrance. Then waves of arpeggios generate a chordal sequence that piles up to a demented dissonance which gives the impression of looking into a dark, terrifying abyss, but only moderately effective, possibly because of the acoustical deficiencies of the Hall. Hushed violins return, played exquisitely.
Scherzo I, which sets off a metrically confused, a bumptious Ländler against a rhapsodic waltz, was energetic and articulate. Rattle gave the hectic character full vent, deftly handling the interplay of the two themes as they become increasingly adversarial.
A sense of mystery lingered over the opening of the brief ‘Purgatorio’ movement. Rattle pressed the tempo of the middle section so as to heighten its contrast, and Mahler introduces an important motif, a soaring upward leap followed by a descending dotted rhythm sourced from Parsifal, where he cries for mercy (erbarmen), which will return with telling consequences.
Rattle vitalized Scherzo II, letting its clamorous character assert itself without remission. Here the Ländler’s three-note dotted rhythm sounds more aggressive, while the waltz is more carefree, and extremely difficult to pull off because the music’s boisterous conglomeration of material can lack clarity. Rattle conquered these difficulties in fine style, in a vivid, overwrought reading laced with painful outbursts of the erbarmen motif. A shadowy quality hung over the quiet conclusion.
The Finale opens with a powerful and continuing punctuating strokes on a muffled drum, a jolt each time. Rattle imbued the eerie opening with otherworldly disquietude. Soft rising-sevenths lead into one of the most beautiful themes Mahler ever wrote, played sublimely by flautist Gareth Davies. Occasionally erbarmen inserts itself again, reminding us of its expression of deep suffering. An Allegro section (Mahler’s demon is never at rest) differs with the flute melody. When the critical moment occurs and the piled-on-thirds of the first movement return, Rattle gave them greater weight. Yet this crucial segment would have been more effective if the timpani rolls had not overwhelmed the brass, and horns played the demonstrative assertion of the Andante theme that ends this segment like a prophetic utterance, a resolution to the crisis, and a climax ensues from the depths of the soul. This heart-wrenching passage might have been more stirring in a different venue, but its moderate effect was no fault of the string-players who gave it all they had. In the closing measures Rattle did not stretch out the upward glissando as much as he has done, making it sound more ethereal than grotesque.
Minor issues aside, Rattle and the LSO gave a strong, well-conceived and well-played performance – intense, dramatic and lyrical, Rattle’s interpretation remaining intelligent and vital.