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Nézet-Séguin Tackles Mahler’s Tenth

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
10/03/2014 -  & October 4th, 2014
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10 in F Sharp Major (Deryck Cooke version)
Orchestre métropolitain, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

Y. Nézet-Séguin (Courtesy of OM)

To open his 15th season with Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain, Principal Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin completed the orchestra’s Mahler cycle, begun in 2001, with a performance of the Tenth Symphony. Sketched out during the summer of 1910, it was left incomplete at his death in 1911. Many believed it should have been left so, but some attempted in subsequent years to produce an orchestrated version that could be played in concert. The first movement, the only one Mahler left absolutely complete, was sometimes performed in public, but it was not until 1959 that the British musicologist and broadcaster Deryck Cooke undertook to complete the orchestration of the entire symphony for performance. This full-length version was played at the London Proms in 1964 conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt; Eugene Ormandy led the Philadelphia Orchestra in the American premiere in 1965.

There were some fine moments in Friday evening’s performance: the nine-note dissonant chord midway through the first movement and the piercing trumpets that followed were delivered with tight, terrifying urgency; the elasticity of Mahler’s signature dance-like rhythms was felicitously realized in the second Scherzo; principal flute Marie-Andrée Benny’s first solo passage in the fifth movement was at once plaintive and serene over the sustaining strings; the lush denouements to the first and last movements with their dense orchestration stood out in stark contrast to the sparseness of the preceding orchestral lines; and there was consistently fine playing from the horns throughout.

Overall, except for three muddy trombone entrances, the performance was clean and tight with scrupulous attention to balance and detail. Ultimately, however, the performance lacked warmth, passion, depth and, even worse where Mahler is concerned, heart. I’ve heard Nézet-Séguin deliver absolutely thrilling Mahler, with this orchestra and others, but this performance did not have the tension and beauty that characteristically rivet the listener to Mahler’s work. Cooke maintained that about ninety per cent of what we hear in the Tenth is true Mahler, but on Wednesday evening it felt more like ten.

Earl Arthur Love



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