Van Zweden Conducts Mahler & Shostakovich


MAHLER: Symphony No. 10: Adagio (orch. Mahler) & Purgatorio (orch. Cornelis Dopper). SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10 / Hong Kong Philharmonic Orch.; Jaap van Zweden, cond / Naxos 8.574372

This is one of those recordings which are excellent in performance quality if a bit questionable in its historic value, particularly this first recording of the “Purgatorio” movement of Mahler’s 10th Symphony as realized by Cornelis Dopper.

Amazingly, the liner notes to this release do not specify the score differences between the Dopper orchestration of this movement and the one later made by Deryck Cooke. Even more surprisingly, there is no detailed description of why only these two movements were performed by conductor Willem Mengelberg with his Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam.

So for the benefit of my readers, here is (pretty much) the whole story in a nutshell.

The main reason why there was no completed Mahler Tenth before 1965 is entirely due to the machinations of the “Malevolent Muse,” a.k.a. “Queen Bitch,” Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel. Following the composer’s death in 1911, she had the score of the 10th framed in glass and placed on her mantelpiece, almost like a religious icon, for musicians to view but not touch or be allowed to read through. Then, in 1923, she relented to a point, sending a copy to Mengelberg along with a note that these two parts of the symphony were “absolutely performable.” A few months later, in 1924, Ernst Krenek was allowed to make a fair copy of these two movements as well. Krenek may have made a copy of the second movement, but realized that it was much patchier and would require some work to complete it properly. Krenek then showed these movements to two conductors who were being considered for a first performance (other than Mengelberg), Franz Schalk and Alexander Zemlinsky, both of whom made unauthorized changes to the score. (Are you following this? If so, I’m glad…at this point, I’m a bit baffled myself.) According to Wikipedia—and this is really interesting—what Alma sent Mengelberg is said to have been not the original score but Schalk’s “unauthorized” version, which Mengelberg then handed over to Cornelis Dopper to tidy up for performance. So that is what we get here.

But of course, the bottom line is, how good are the performances? Of the Mahler 10th, quite good. Van Zweden is a very serious and conscientious conductor who does his homework and tries to understand the proper style of everything he performs. He is not, however, a conductor who plays around with tempi, which is something Mahler himself often did with his own symphonies, thus this reading of the “Adagio,” while quite heartfelt, is a more straightforward reading, much like Eugene Ormandy’s first recording of the original Cooke edition of the complete symphony in 1966. Like Ormandy, van Zweden does understand the Mahlerian tendency towards using portamento, a feature of classical music performance which has now gone the way of the dinosaur. And WOW is this Hong Kong Orchestra fantastic! (In case you’ve not noticed, some of the greatest orchestras in the world are now Asian ones, from Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and even China. They can outplay the modern Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics both in terms of technique and feeling for the music.)

As for the “Purgatorio,” I think I hear a few little differences between this and the Cooke versions, but to be honest, when I listen to this symphony I’m basically listening for Mahler’s musical conception. This orchestration sounds good to me; it’s effective in conveying the strangeness of the music, and van Zweden does a good job with it. Thus I can’t really tell you that this is a necessary recording to have unless you’re a musicologist and want to examine the Dopper version in comparison to all the others that have emerged since Cooke I.

Van Zweden’s performance of the Shostakovich 10th is also quite good, and interestingly enough, he infuses some Mahlerian feeling in terms of legato and darkness of feeling in the lower strings into his performance, but I’ve yet to hear a Shostakovich 10th as powerful and deeply felt as the little-known recording by Václav Smetáček with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, a recording so good that it literally wipes out everyone else’s version. If you can’t find the Smetáček, however, van Zweden will surely do. I find that he has more drive in it than the famous Herbert von Karajan recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, in part because of Karajan’s overriding focus on creating a “cathedral of sound” with his orchestra whereas Shostakovich preferred leaner, more “Russian” textures, which Van Zweden tires to provide. (Note, in particular, the very fine woodwind blends near the middle of the first movement…the instruments have more “bite” to them than in the Karajan recording.) The second movement is particularly excellent, almost as great in intensity as the Smetáček recording. And again, listen to this orchestra. I tell you, they’re near the top in the entire world.

So that’s my take on this recording. A very good performance of the two Mahler movements and a near-great reading of the Shostakovich.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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10 thoughts on “Van Zweden Conducts Mahler & Shostakovich

  1. J Huizinga says:

    Another highly informative review — I can’t fathom how you do this — but you’re clearly the greatest single classical music recordings reviewer in the world today.


    • Ha. Tell that to the critics at Fanfare, who drummed me out of their ranks for being “musically ignorant,” or the snobs at ResearchGate who wouldn’t even let me download an obscure opera libretto because I’ve never published an academic paper.


      • J Huizinga says:

        I remember your reviews as being informative but highly spiced — not the milquetoast median review predominant there (even worse at Gramophone). What happened is a badge of your honor.

        Seriously, I’m in awe of the breadth of your research and the granular detail of your listening details. And I only generally read your reviews of the mainstream repertoire!


      • We,, I do thank you. You’ve made my day. Incidentally, the musicians and composers whose work I reviewed nearly always appreciated what I said about them, and to be honest, their opinions meant a lot more to me than my “fellow critics.” Oh, by the way…if you count all the people who apparently come along with the new subscribers I get (like today, one fellow “and 198 others” have started receiving updates on my blog, I reckon that I now have about 4,100 followers, more than double that of Fanfare subscribers. But of course, at least 500 of those “subscribers” are music conservatories and colleges who prefer the “milquetoast median reviews” in Fanfare. I listen very hard to each and every piece and recording I review, and try to get to the meat of the performance. And I never insist that anyone who reads my reviews agrees with me, because I learned early on that no two people hear music exactly the same way.


  2. J Huizinga says:

    There were at least three striking, non-obvious reviews (if memory serves) that have stayed with me: the Kuchta Fidelio, a discussion of Gilda Cruz-Romo, and the recent review of Korstick/Beethoven. If you are this perceptive on the normative repertoire, I can’t imagine the service you are doing for new composers. A valiant individualist — many kudos to you.


    • Really, I’m flattered. Thank you so much and I’m glad you enjoy reading my reviews! (You may also want to read my new book, “Opera as Drama II,” which is also here on my site for free download and/or printing out.)


      • J Huizinga says:

        Thanks for the reference to your book — I’ll investigate.

        I’ve assumed you’re largely a one person shop — certainly the consistency of viewpoint and writing style suggests this. So you’re not to be compared with shops like Fanfare or Gramophone (or American Record Guide). Do you follow musicweb international? Skilled amateurs mostly but some exceptions.

        It’s always tempting to try to “scale up” efforts of proprietorships — they seldom work out. But somehow there seems there ought to be a way to bring your remarkable work to “millions” haha….


      • I’ll be 72 years old on January 15, so I’ve been around the block a while. Been writing reviews, mostly for small publications but occasionally for big ones (Opera News, Ovation, Fanfare) which I thought would give me some kind of reputation but it never seemed to work out BECAUSE I’ve always followed by own muse and do not always agree with all the other critics. Thus, all my life I’ve been told, more or less, that I’m not entitled to my opinion because it diverges from those of Established Critics. Yes, I occasionally read MusicWeb International, and several of their reviewers say things that I agree with wholeheartedly. I think the difference is that I always try to say things in a way that most people can understand – you might call me a “colloquialist” – because I come from a middle-class working family and not from any sort of Cultural Elite. In my younger years, I liked to brand myself as “the Blue Collar music critic,” but found out this wasn’t a handle that helped me much. By the way, American Record Guide’s owner/editor (Donald Vroon) lives about two miles from me but twice refused my applications to write for his mag (back in the 1980s) because I am a woman and I am heavy-set, and he despises both women and fat people.


      • J Huizinga says:

        Never underestimate the insecurity of others. Your obviously superior talent made you an easy mark for the envious. This is the human condition but it is sad to find it permeating the world of classical music reviewing. Take cheer that you have a wonderful space in which to share your gifts with others.

        I love the final words of The Charterhouse of Parma” — “To the happy few”.


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