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Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Gale

Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Gale

Ars Produktion  ARS 38 222

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (arr. Michelle Castelletti}

Ensemble Mini
Joolz Gale

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - March 9, 2021

Mahler wasn’t allowed the time to complete the orchestration of his final masterpiece. Its destiny is known: Based on material he left behind when he joined his forbears, musicologists and scholars have taken on the task - with mitigated success - to produce a performance edition of his Tenth Symphony. Deryck Cooke’s is widely considered to be the most faithful and preferred version. There is, however, another way to look at it.

This is the second time that Joolz Gale and his Ensemble Mini have taken up the challenge to surprise the classical music community with a radically scaled-down version of a Mahler symphony. For many, this may be something akin to swearing in church, but - from a historical perspective - not so for Arnold Schoenberg and his friends and today's followers.

Let’s go back in time. During its short lifetime at the beginning of the 20th century, Arnold Schönberg’s Austrian Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen, organized private musical performances, for which several arrangers down-scaled important contemporary compositions, like Erwin Stein, Schoenberg’s assistant, who arranged Mahler’s Fourth Symphony for a 15-musician chamber ensemble to meet the society’s ‘chamber performance’ objectives.

In our time, such objectives continue to attract interest. Klaus Simon, a German pianist, and conductor, reduced, along similar lines, Mahler 9, which Joolz Gale premiered in 2012 with his Ensemble Mini in the Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany, with an orchestral complement matching that of Schoenberg’s chamber players.

In his excellent, thought-provoking review Mahler: Symphony No. 9 - Gale, Mark Werlin observed that: “They were inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s "Songs of a Wayfarer", which was presented ca. 1920 at the Verein …” and that the “arrangement for flute, clarinet, string quintet, harmonium, piano, and percussion was intended to demonstrate to the Verein the workings of Mahler's compositional genius, and his relevance to the development of a new musical language—atonality”.

Except for staunch Mahlerites, preferring the impact of large orchestral forces, Gale’s account of the 9th was welcomed, if only, as someone put it: “The 'reduction' in the size of the orchestra allows different strands of the counterpoint, particularly in the third movement, to come through the texture”.

For this new recording, Gale used a recent version from Dr. Michelle Castelletti, a Maltese conductor and musicologist, currently Musical Director of the British Royal Northern College of Music. Equally inspired by Schoenberg’s view that not many instruments were needed to ‘demonstrate Mahler’s compositional genius’, she made a scaled-down reconstruction and completion of Mahler 10, explaining in her personal notes (booklet): “The re-creation of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony with this new performing edition of mine was made in the contemporaneous tradition of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen, Vienna (1918-21), upon which Ensemble Mini’s concept is based”.

Partly based on sketches for only a few instruments, one might argue that her mini-edition carries a certain degree of authenticity. For a better understanding, I urge people to read Dr. Castelletti’s in-depth explanatory notes. It sheds some new and interesting views on Mahler’s final score and thoughts. However, reading these notes, there is one thing that may not be sufficiently clear, namely, to what extent is this new ARS release a World Premiere Recording as claimed in the booklet? Castelletti refers on the one hand to the tradition of Schoenberg’s ‘private concerts’ society “upon which Ensemble Mini’s concept is based”, explaining further on in the text, having “taken the decision that this edition will be treated as a performing score especially for chamber orchestra”. We must assume that both refer to the same reconstruction.

Trying to answer the question of whether BIS is right in saying that its recent release Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Storgårds, “appears on disc for the first time” as opposed to ARS claiming a Premiere World Recording, it would appear that both are correct.

John Storgårds, BIS

According to my information, Michelle Castelletti, in consultation with John Storgårds, adapted her original reconstruction to suit the larger complement of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra. This is, therefore, not the same, though new in its revised form, and hence appearing for the first time on disc.

Joolz Gale, ARS

The Castelletti reconstruction was premiered in 2012 in Canterbury, England, with Castelletti conducting the Canterbury Chamber Orchestra with a complement of 16 musicians (Universal Edition https://www.universaledition.com/gustav-mahler-448/works/10-symphonie-14543). It is this version that Joolz Gale recorded, and is, therefore, a Premiere World Recording.

Despite the academic purpose of any such reflections, prospective listeners are no doubt more interested to know if Gale and his mini forces live up to the standard they have set with their previous release. And if this is so, where do they stand in comparison to the Laplanders? As to the latter question: It’s obvious that a full complement chamber orchestra, can, as Mark Werlin noted in his detailed review of Mahler: Symphony No. 10 - Storgårds sound “larger than its actual numbers”. Whether or not this is an illusion, both are in conception too far apart for a realistic comparison.

Gale’s musicians come from the best German orchestras. Young and eager. All are mentioned by name in the booklet, though it would have been nice to have short bios. Since the first recording, mutations have taken place, but it is for any conductor worth his salt to maintain the sonority of an ensemble, no matter who’s playing, whilst keeping individual musicians in a collective, well-calibrated framework. Joolz Gale succeeds on both counts. But there is more. Clearly helped by the quality of his players, Gale’s persuasive enthusiasm brings out the best in them. This is, of course, a condition sine qua non. One for a part means ‘no place to hide’, excellence is de rigueur. And that’s what they do.

The viola, proving that this instrument is the nobleman of the strings, sets the right mood at the beginning of the Adagio. The whole of the first movement is, indeed, delivered with superb musical affection. Although I have to confess that I’m a ‘big orchestra Mahlerite’ I much liked the honesty of the minimalist approach. The clarity of the first Scherzo, played with such animated eloquence, catches even the most reluctant traditional school adept in its positive aura.

In the second stage of the symphony, Ensemble Mini show that they can dig deeper in the score with just 15 instruments on stage. All a matter of creating contrasts and emotional complexities. One may wonder about Castilletti’s rank in the list of all those who have taken Mahler’s final creation so seriously at heart to feel the moral obligation to make it accessible to the world at large, there is no reason not to embrace Joolz Gale and his musicians for the unique realization of this version for chamber ensemble.

If after all this praise a critical remark has to be made, though I understand that due to Gale’s extensive and most instructive liner notes (dealing in great detail with each of the movements) and Castelletti’s personal views, it is that insufficient space remained for a translation in any other language, not even in German (customary for ARS’ home market). Well, I can live with that.

The recording puts the listener close to the musicians. For some maybe too close. But on the other hand, they may very well appreciate getting the chance to stand next to Joolz Gale on the rostrum. It adds to the liveliness of the concert, whereby the individual instruments can easily be pinpointed in the resounding environment of the Musikbrauerei, Berlin, due to the careful engineering and mastering in surround by Manfred Schumacher. And, as the case may be, you will like or dislike that there is no applause.

At the end of the day, we may conclude that this new version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony is the only one in the true tradition of Arnold Schönberg’s Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen and, therefore, an unmissable release for collectors and other Mahler admirers.


Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France

Copyright © 2021 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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