Harding Mahler 10

Symphony No.10 [Performing Version by Deryck Cooke]

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 8 December, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

This music seems to cry out for antiphonal violins (de rigueur in Mahler’s day) yet Daniel Harding opted for the violas to be seated outside-right. I interviewed Daniel Harding the day after this performance. He said that this placement was an “experiment” and that normally he would use antiphonal violins, although he feels that this symphony, unlike Mahler 9, isn’t as requiring of the arrangement and having the violins together can be advantageous; what was more important to him was to have the cellos “inside”.

And there will always be conjecture as to how Mahler would have completed his Tenth Symphony (there have been several attempts to ‘finish’ the work), but he did leave a complete route-map and, to various degrees, a clear idea of orchestration. Deryck Cooke did just enough to make this music performable; he made two ‘Performing Versions’, the second more expansively scored, the first with some memorable features that Cooke chose to remove. Using Cooke’s second edition, Harding opened with those ‘outside’ violas sounding veiled and mysterious, the opening Adagio being flowing and voluble, strikingly detailed, contrapuntal melodies unusually and pertinently highlighted. The climax was well balanced if not searing enough; momentary individual lapses and some inexact chording somewhat dogged the performance as a whole.

In the scherzo, although Harding was successful in negotiating the rhythmic complexities, expressive moments were glossed over as the music pressed ahead rather too relentlessly, similarly the death-dance second scherzo, and the intermediary ‘Purgatorio’ lost some of its potential.

The mostly slow finale – again in a faster upsurge, Harding didn’t always mould the music to its optimum personality, but the bass drum strokes were superbly black-sounding and drained of resonance and Gareth Davies’s flute solo was a wondrous moment, Harding leaving well alone and providing shifting perspectives around this oasis of serenity. Overall, though, this particular rendition didn’t quite add up; Harding is yet to find his way into the music as Simon Rattle and Riccardo Chailly have done (or as Ormandy and Martinon, using Cooke 1, did), but Harding is also an unapologetic champion of the work. The LSO’s programme-book included an exemplary note on Mahler 10 by David Matthews; he and his brother Colin worked with Cooke on the revised performing edition.

Harding has been announced as Principal Guest Conductor from the 2006 season. He’s been working with the LSO for ten years. He certainly communicates his intentions and an exciting time seems to lie ahead. That Harding plays Mahler 10 is all to the good; it has too much wonderful music to be overlooked. And in the week following this LSO account (which followed one with the LPO in March), Harding will have made his Vienna Philharmonic debut – with Mahler 10.

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