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Watch: Rattle conducts Mahler’s 10th from memory

April 29, 2018 by norman lebrecht

61 comments.


Sir Simon Rattle has been an advocate of the Deryck Cooke performing version of Mahler’s Tenth since he was in his 20s and has probably conducted it more than any other maestro.

In his most recent performance with the London Symphony Orchestra – a stunner – he conducted the huge symphony from memory.

Watch here:

The symphony begins at 1:37:05.

Earlier, at 1:11:00, Rattle argues authoritatively that Mahler’s 10th ‘was written from beginning to end by Mahler: we have every single bar.’ It contains, says Rattle, ‘his profoundest and most moving finale.’

He ads: ‘I get angry when people say he didn’t complete it.’

Essential viewing.

The slightly irritating backstage presenter keeps using the word ‘controversial’ for anything she cannot understand.

Read Fiona Maddocks’ review here.

See more comment here.

 


Comments (61)

  1. Jack Burt says:

    There is a wonderful youtube video of the completed 10th, with a scrolling version of the Mahler Autograph… so you are able to see what he actually finished, and what Cooke, et al, added. It is quite compelling, an very moving.

    I am puzzled by those that argue against it. I feel fortunate that I can listen to a realized version of it. Take it for what it is and enjoy it. There is so much Mahler there. The end of the symphony is so beautiful…

    1. Hilary says:

      In addition, Mahler made extensive changes during/after rehearsals so the notion of ‘finished’ is open to question. With that said, I’m pleased X exists, but it feels more like a sketch.

      1. Rob says:

        Obviously where the orchestration is not Mahler, Cooke’s work it is so clunky and abrupt. Mahler’s orchestration was a piece of finesse, sophistication, high art. It’s feasible to say Mahler would have changed the movements around, re-composed and possibly destroyed movements.

        And while were on the topic of Mahler (!!!!!) The opening of the 6th Symphony is NOT about two world wars, its about him hiking around the Italian and Austrian Alps, the second theme is Alma. It’s about him and Alma, not about world wars Mr Lebrecht. You have got that completely wrong and skewed.

        1. mr oakmountain says:

          Actually we have only Alma’s word that this theme is about her. If it is, then Gustav must have had very interesting feelings about her, because he also uses it in a very militaristic way occasionally.
          And the opening theme being about strolling the Alps … that seems to me as much of a gross oversimplification than claiming it is about two world wars.
          Mahler was a very complicated and neurotic person, and this phase in his life must have troubled him deeply, even though technically most things were going fine for him.

          1. Although the M6 was written earlier, it was first performed on May 27, 1906. A couple of weeks earlier, on May 8th (which ironically happens to also be my birthday) Mahler and Adolf Hitler crossed paths at the Vienna Opera where Mahler was conducting a performance of Tristan und Isolde. Though there is no record that they met, being the sensitive soul that he was, I have little doubt that being in the same room with that dark soul only deepened Mahler’s angst.

          2. Saxon Broken says:

            Pamela,

            You do know that Adolf was a very young, poor, and obscure art student in 1906 who would have sat/stood in the cheap seats right at the back. Mahler would not have met him or given him any thought whatsoever. Adolf only became a “somebody” due to his bravery as a soldier in the first world war, and his personal sense of betrayal when Germany surrendered in 1918; the events which led him to become politically active. But in 1906 this was some way in the future.

        2. Barry Guerrero says:

          Nobody writes a 30 minute finale with 8 horns, 4 trombones (the 4th is added only in the finale), tons of percussion including ‘hammer’ and two sets of timpani; tons of woodwinds including bass clarinet, Eb clarinet and contrabassoon; etc., that’s about hiking around the Alps or their marital difficulties. If you look at the first version (Dover Edition), you’ll see that there was even MORE percussion in the first version. It may not be about two world wars, but it’s certainly not a stroll in the meadows or hand-wringing over one’s marital difficulties

          1. Rob says:

            Well the opening of the finale is as if waking up from a bad dream after the interlude of the slow movement. The 6th and 7th symphonies are symphonic poems if you wish. Mahler had creative blocks when writing them that was eased by long walks in Carbonin and elsewhere. The interlude in the first movement of 6 with the cowbells and the attempt to capture distant cow horns at the start of the 2nd movement of the 7th is testament to these long walks in the mountains and elsewhere. That these symphonies are about a prediction of war is frankly, over the top and unrealistic.

      2. I have mixed feelings about the X also, and cannot relax with it as I can with Mahler’s other works, even though I appreciate the good work that Derek Cooke has done.

    2. Tony Sanderson says:

      Norman,

      Thanks for putting this video up. As well as the Mahler, I am delighted that Sir Simon is reviving “The Rose Lake”. This is one of my favourite Tippett compositions.

      I once saw Sir Michael conducting his “Fantasia on a Theme of Handel” for piano and orchestra. The pianists page turner turned a page too early once and the lady soloist’s expression was wonderful to behold. One of those moments that make live performances so special.

      Tony

  2. Rob says:

    After 38 years he should know it. But Mahler will still be turning in his Grinzing grave.

    1. Barry Guerrero says:

      “Mahler will still be turning in his Grinzing grave”

      That’s debatable because it’s truly unknowable. He allegedly gave Alma permission to do as she saw fit with the 10th. Alma was very protective of the 10th, and didn’t sanction future performances until she was thoroughly convinced of D. Cooke’s results.

      To me, the best recording of the 10th is the first full one given by Berthold Goldschmidt, for the simple reason that he made minor changes that didn’t get copied into Cooke score – changes that work very well (albeit, very minor ones).

      Even if Mahler were turning in his grave, I, for one, am very grateful to have Mahler’s 10th symphony in my life. It’s a symphony I play only once in a while, as it has a profound effect upon me. I

      I also enjoy the much more filled out Samale/Mazzuca version of the symphony, but I feel that it needs another recording with a more ‘spontaneous’ sounding performance. You can hear the S/M version on both Youtube and Spotify (I think). It was recorded by Canyon Classics.

      1. Michael Comins says:

        In the US, Ormandy/Philly’s recording was the first to appear. I’m happy to own it as it’s probably the first recording by a world-class orchestra.

        1. Barry Guerrero says:

          The Ormandy is still very good by any measure. It’s the recording that drew me to work at age 18 (they were playing it in a record store).

  3. Novagerio says:

    So bloody what? Is that an achievement?…

    1. Brian says:

      Yes, it is actually. And he conducted a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Ninth last night in Frankfurt – also from memory.

    2. Barry Guerrero says:

      To conduct the second movement, alone, by memory would be quite an achievement, as it’s loaded with ‘five beats to the bar’ type meter changes – constant shifts of two and three beat patterns. Try following with a recording – pretending that you’re conducting as it goes along – and you’ll see how difficult that could be to get right.

      1. Sue says:

        Not only that, but isn’t there all the instructions given to separate parts of the orchestra during rehearsals?

        1. Barry Guerrero says:

          Sue, I don’t know if intended your question for me, but I don’t quite follow you here. Yes, a conductor gives numerous instructions during a rehearsal. There are tons of videos on Youtube of conductors in action, so you could quickly get a feel for what goes on during rehearsals. Those instructions would generally have little to do with the time signatures that are written in the music, other than the conductor clarifying just how – for example – a 5/8 bar is going to be conducted, etc. What mostly gets covered at such a professional level, are matters of phrasing, relative dynamics (one section of instruments in relation to another) and balances. Scores and parts give lots of instructions, but an independent set of ears is always needed.

          As Mahler himself said late in his life, a conductor is a necessary evil.

  4. Zach says:

    I played the Cooke version of Mahler 10th. Compare the first movement which is genuine Mahler versus the rest of the movements which despite what rattle says, doesn’t quite do the trick. In addition, Simon Rattle is not anywhere near the conductor as Bernstein, Kubelik, or Tennstedt, when conducting Mahler or anything else, so his opinions about Mahler are worth nothing.

    1. Ellingtonia says:

      And yours are? Do tell us how many performances you have given of Mahler symphonies and with which orchestras, just so that we can establish what kind of pedigree you have.

    2. MacroV says:

      I’ve played it, too, and several others (youth/college orchestras, not professionally). I’ll agree the 10th isn’t as good as the other symphonies. But IMHO it’s good enough to play.

      I’ll agree Sir Simon isn’t as good as conductor as those you mentioned, but I think he’s a great institution leader (Bernstein, as another current thread makes clear, was not) and ambassador for music.

      1. Saxon Broken says:

        This comment about Rattle’s qualities is very interesting. I will say, also, that Rattle would not have been the Berlin Phil’s chief conductor if he didn’t have serious conducting ability (they are an orchestra in which the musicians choose the conductor). Personally, I think he is very good in Mahler and 20th century repertoire, but much less good in the main 19th century German romantic repertoire (Beethoven-Brahms-Bruckner). But this is just my personal taste.

    3. Sue says:

      At the very least he deserves some respect for his great success. Not only that, he doesn’t have the temper tantrums of those you mentioned.

    4. Allen says:

      “Simon Rattle is not anywhere near the conductor as Bernstein, Kubelik, or Tennstedt, when conducting Mahler or anything else, so his opinions about Mahler are worth nothing.”

      A comment like that is worthless without some form of explanation. It’s just a wordy version of the very adolescent: “xxxxx is shit”.

    5. With all due respect, that comes across as just a tad dismissive. I think Rattle at least in the ball park.

      1. Barry Guerrero says:

        Furthermore, I would suggest that all four of those conductors are very different in their Mahler – about as diverse a field as one could possibly get.

  5. MacroV says:

    I would be surprised if Sir Simon COULDN”T conduct it from memory. Thanks for the video, anyway.

    1. Hilary says:

      This is an interesting book. Much to recommend it, but Schuller has a tendency to see the wood for the trees.

    2. Sue says:

      Carlos Kleiber mostly conducted from memory and I disagree with Schuller; Kleiber knew all the intricacies of the score inside out and upside down. And he told his correspondent Charles Barber that “it’s something your Aunt Sally could do”.

      1. Jerome Hoberman says:

        Maybe Schuller never saw Kleiber, Celibidache, Tennstedt (sometimes), Abbado (sometimes), Sawallisch (sometimes), as examples of conductors who had the entire piece in their consciousnesses and bodies, free of the printed music, and who would react to the realities of a performance. And, according to Celibidache, de Sabata. Reiner and Monteux *did*, pace Schuller, conduct without score/stand (there are videos). But Solti, who always had the score though he knew it intimately by heart, still did seem to read it, and sometimes find interesting things in it during performances. And I was at a performance of Berlioz Fantastique which Haitink conducted without score (rare for him), which was noticeably freer and more communicative than the previous night’s Mahler 7, which he’d led with the score in front of him. Conductors are individuals, too.

        1. Petros Linardos says:

          Moreover, Schuller states that only very few conductors pull it off without a score: “That complete intimate knowledge… that understanding… of every minuscule detail of a score – I have seen in only very few score-less conductors…”
          So, I don’t see why one has to disagree with Schuller if Carlos Kleiber did it effectively. I am sure Sue will not question his uniqueness 😉
          As for Carlos’ comments to Charles Barber, I believe a lot was witty self deprecation.

          1. Sue says:

            Absolutely correct about the “witty self-deprecation”!! But, as was noted in at least one of the documentary films made about Kleiber in 2010 and 2011, his colleagues and friends told of a man who had a phenomenal intimate knowledge of a great many scores even though most of them were never conducted. He had studied them over the years and knew them intricately. (Most of them were his father’s working scores.) So using an argument that a conductor who performs less music has a less difficult task with regards to memory than one who performs more is redundant in the case of Carlos Kleiber.

      2. Barry Guerrero says:

        Yes, but just to play ‘devil’s advocate’ (because I really did like Kleiber), Kleiber had a relatively narrow range of music that he conducted. He was also a bit of a ‘cancellation artist’.

        1. Petros Linardos says:

          I can’t see any connection between Carlos Kleiber’s cancellations and memorization.

          His repertoire gradually narrowed, I believe from the 70s on, as his fame deservedly soared. What I don’t know is whether he consistently conducted from memory in his early days, when his repertoire was wide.

          1. Sue says:

            I believe that Ruth Kleiber (the mother of Carlos Kleiber) used to organize for a rose to be placed on the score before Carlos conducted in the 60s (she died in 1966). There are recordings of “Rosenkavalier” and other operas where Carlos is NOT reading, but that rose can be clearly seen on the music stand!! He kept the tradition going for many years.

          2. Barry Guerrero says:

            I never said there was any connection. The fact remains, however.

          3. Petros Linardos says:

            Oh yes. I learned the hard way in May 1985: back then I was a student in Vienna and travelled to Munich to attend a Rosenkavalier, only to find out that he had cancelled. Just before the performance, I ran into an orchestra musician and asked him why? He said rehearsals were great until he had a clash with one of the female singers, I believe Sophie (if memory serves). Jiri Kout stepped in. Regardless, it was a great performance, but I couldn’t get over my disappointment. I had gone out of my way to find those tickets.
            In 1999, I contemplated travelling to the Canary Islands or Palermo to attend what turned out to be his last concerts, but held back because of my Munich experience.

      3. Tristan says:

        please no comparison with Kleiber, there are worlds between them and he is finally leaving the Berlin Philharmonic as they can hardly wait for Petrenko – Rattle is one of the most overrated conductors of our time
        And just a reminder that Karajan conducted almost everything from memory!

  6. Martin says:

    I wonder how many of you armchair pundits were actually in the hall! I won’t even enter the debate about ‘completed’ versions of the Tenth – accept what it offers on its own terms or don’t bother listen! Rattle’s performances of the 9th and 10th last week were amongst the finest Mahler performances I have heard in 50 plus years of concert going. He is already getting the LSO, particularly the strings, to play out of their skins and there is a real buzz in the hall, a feeling that this is but the start of something very special indeed. There is no greater admirer than I of Tennstedt’s Mahler (the best of all), or Bernstein’s, or Abbado’s, or Haitink’s (or of the late Wyn Morris, the finest British Mahler conductor ever). I heard them all live many times and every one was memorable. Rattle at 60 years of age in now in his prime and up there with the very best of them – he’s just diferent – he’s just Rattle. I feel lucky, even at 70 years of age, to have the opportunity to experience what he might achieve with the LSO in the coming years.

    1. 18mebrumaire says:

      +1*

    2. Rob says:

      Yes, Wyn Morris’s interpretation of Mahler’s 8th is finer than Tennstedt’s, and had he had Solti’s soloists……… Oh my goodness! Morris is one of the few conductors to get the pacing of two central climaxes in the first movement just right, Bernstein being another.

    3. Derek says:

      Martin,

      Spoken from the heart and well put.

      You have whetted my appetite as I am seeing him and the LSO this week – Mahler’s 9th

    4. David Schildknecht says:

      Thanks for the reminder about Morris – sent me back to some old LPs. He seems to have been largely forgotten, at least outside the UK (as I am) and indeed forgotten by me, too!

      Count me among those happy to have Cooke’s and other realizations of the 10th. The final bars are a great example of what having a performing version of this symphony contributes to our appreciation of Mahler but also of how such a realization inevitably falls short. I find them enormously moving. But even somebody only modestly skilled in score reading and who studies a bit of the literature on this score will realize that whether one experiences these final bars as an expression of resignation, of hope, of optimism or of exaltation depends by no means only on choices made by the conductor. It depends – or rather, would have depended – on choices that Mahler never had a chance to make. And as a couple of participants in this thread have reminded us, just because this score was “nearly complete” linearly speaking doesn’t preclude the possibility that Mahler would have made substantial changes.

  7. Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Conducting from memory is not a noteworthy achievement. The musicians play with the music in front of them and can (and frequently do) bail out the conductor. On the other hand, soloists have nobody to save them should they have a memory slip.

  8. Tripod says:

    Most of the greatest conductors conduct from memory, and I’m surprised why so few of the currently active generation don’t. For concertos and operas I can understand the use of the score, but for orchestral/symphonic pieces I don’t understand why most still use it.

    Better the score in your head than your head in the score!

  9. Andres Montoya says:

    At the 47:45 minute, one of the violinists is wearing earplugs. Did anybody notice? Wonder why?

  10. Jeremy Atkin says:

    Kirill Petrenko has his head in the score an awful lot – manically turning pages during fast bits. But the results are fantastic, so who cares ?

    1. Sue says:

      Just exactly what IS is with this conductor? I’ve seen a couple of his performances and have noted his intensity, but I didn’t feel any particular magic.

    2. James says:

      Let us hope and pray that Petrenko wastes little time on Mahler.
      Dear God in heaven, the Mahler Fuehrerkult is truly vomitous.

      1. Sue says:

        I agree with you about Mahler – overblown, over-exposed and over-rated. But it suits the zeitgeist where everything is BIG.

  11. Barry Guerrero says:

    If you don’t like Mahler’s music, why not simply turn it off when it comes on. That’s what I do when I hear Vivaldi, yet I don’t preach against his music, because I know there are others who truly enjoy it.

    1. Barry Guerrero says:

      . . . and just to dash your hopes a bit, here’s a Youtube link to a very good Mahler 4 with K. Petrenko, done with an orchestra that I had thought disappeared decades ago.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpfI4HQlvGo

      1. Sue says:

        “Too many notes”!

    2. Siegfried says:

      …a novel, even revolutionary approach, I should think, for the rather many contributors to this site who seem unable to keep their spite, ignorance, foolishness and starry-eyed vulgarity decently under wraps.

      I must agree with Sue and James: Mahler has become much, much, much
      too much of a thing not very good in the first place. Now why would that be?

      1. Barry Guerrero says:

        What if somebody doesn’t agree with you and Sue and James? Are they wrong?

        My point is this, Siegfried: why do people who don’t like something, feel compelled to tell others that they shouldn’t like it as well?

        I don’t like brussels sprouts, regardless of how they’re prepared, yet plenty of people do.

        I just don’t get this ‘either/or’ mind set. Surely there’s plenty of room in this world for people who like Modigliani but not Edvard Munch, and people who like Edvard Munch but not Modigliani. Live and let live.

  12. M2N2K says:

    Full disclosure: Sir Simon Rattle is one of my very favorite conductors among hundreds with whom I have worked. However, the quality of the last three movements of the Tenth (as “completed” by Cooke) simply does not measure up to the opening Adagio or to the rest of Mahler’s symphonies. As for conducting it from memory, it is certainly a considerable achievement but not a unique one at all.

  13. Barry Guerrero says:

    Interesting and level headed comment. For me, it’s the second movement (first scherzo) that is the most troublesome, and surely would have been revised and more fully orchestrated (had Mahler lived on). It started out as a finale movement, but then Mahler reshaped it into a scherzo as the rest of the symphony progressed. It’s a bit of a mess. Rattle always does this movement very well.

    While certainly not fully scored by Mahler, the last three movements have a continuous narrative that’s quite convincing to me. One of the brilliant things that Rattle did in his Berlin remake of Mahler 10, was to take the coda of the second scherzo (fourth movement) at a slower tempo – thus making for a more natural and convincing transition into the fifth movement – and to link the last two movements with just a single bass drum stroke. That works!

    I’ve always felt that if you’re going to going to link the last two movements with two bass drum shots (as currently written), then they should be performed differently – not identical. For example: the one that ends the fourth movement could be a loud shot offstage, while the next one that begins the finale is made a softer one onstage. You get the idea. It seems dumb to have two identical shots.

    One of the major things I like about the Samale/Mazzuca version (I’m rambling now), is that they make bars 373 through 379 in the finale (towards the end) into a full forte climax. Even as a kid at age 18, that’s how I heard this passage in my head and heart. Clinton Carpenter does the same thing also, but not nearly as well. For my money (or lack of it), S/M have come up with the best second movement (first scherzo), especially its ending.

    If some of you really want something to complain about in regards to Mahler 10, check out the Yoel Gamzou version. Now THAT’S truly ‘over the top’. Interesting but bizarre.


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