Christopher White

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (Piano Transcription)

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Even though their legitimacy is still being debated, completions of Gustav Mahler's unfinished Symphony No. 10 have increased at an astonishing rate in the century since the composer's death in 1911. To know if any of the completions is the most preferred, one only has to scan a list of recordings to see that the first of Deryck Cooke's three realizations has attained a higher status than almost any other contenders. Now, to see that Cooke's historic version has been transcribed for solo piano by Ronald Stevenson and Christopher White and recorded by the latter, one could gather that it has a real significance that others don't. But this transcription sets its own standards as a keyboard work, and Stevenson and White have rendered Mahler's and Cooke's work into something unexpectedly modern and new sounding. One aspect of this transcription that everyone will notice is what seems like increased dissonance, for Mahler's astringent chords -- especially the famous nine-pitch chord at the climax of the Adagio -- sound much harsher on the piano than in the full orchestration. As a result, Mahler's densest harmonies sound a bit more like Berg or Schoenberg on the piano, if not a little like Scriabin, too. Of course, the overall sense of the music, its sweeping melodies, and its wild mood swings are pure Mahler, and anyone who knows Cooke's version well will be able to follow everything Stevenson and White have adapted or highlighted. The sound of this recording is somewhat echoic and slightly distant, since the performance was recorded at London's Rosslyn Hill Chapel (disregard the misleading cover photo of Worcester Cathedral). But White's playing is always clear and often ingenious in the imitation of Mahler's sonorities, even though no attempt was made to explicitly copy orchestral effects. This is an effective piano version, but from the complexity of the counterpoint and the massive size of the chords, only virtuosos should approach this tour de force.

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