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Curiously, it feels almost superfluous -- after the impact of the Ninth -- to speak of the Adagio movement of the uncompleted Tenth. Bernstein was one of the (over?) faithful who would have nothing to do with the completion of the sketches. In terms of Mahlerian integrity, I have little doubt about the rightness of that decision. On the other hand, while greatly admiring Rattle's award-winning Berlin performance, I don't think that we needed much more than the Ormandy 1965 recording with his Philadelphia Orchestra to demonstrate how moving Deryck Cooke's version (Sony Masterworks) could be.

Leonard Bernstein - Mahler - Symphony No 10 (Adagio). Copyright (c) Sony Music Entertainment Inc

In fact, by the mid 1970s, as Paul Myers says, 'Bernstein and CBS were getting a little bored with each other.' So, we have here the odd incidence of the DG Vienna Philharmonic performance being set-down before the CBS / Sony New York Phil. version. There's but a few seconds between them in timing, neither is guilty of the kind of neurotic hysteria that Bernstein critics might have anticipated. Due respect is paid, as ever, to the composer's markings; both orchestras play according to their disparate styles -- but they both put service to this farewell to Romanticism before any quirky self-exposure [listen -- Sony disc 1 track 21, 0:01-1:10].

Conclusions are difficult to draw. The DG set is, without question, better recorded and, therefore, closer to the sonic intentions of Bernstein's penetration of Mahler's intentions. The Sony cycle can be said to benefit from its rawness and exploratory engagement with what were, in the 1960s, less than repertoire-familiar works. The price-point is an obvious factor : let there be no doubt at all, that the new Sony reissue is an extraordinary bargain. It is archival material of stunningly committed performances in perfectly acceptable sound at budget price. The overall thrust of interpretation changed less, over the years, than might have been expected though increased orchestral virtuosity, the extra thrill of substantially live-recordings, better recording venues and more adept recording producers may have better served the unique meeting of minds which occurred whenever Bernstein conducted Mahler. Pay your money -- take your choice. All true Mahlerians need one or the other. Lottery winners would not find purchasing both sets a waste of time or money. We should all celebrate the availability of such monumental achievements.

Copyright © 28 August 2001 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK

 

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