When Gustav Mahler died in 1911 at the age of 50 he left behind sketches for his tenth and final symphony. Of the five movements, we have Mahler’s full scores of the first and third movements with the remainder in an abbreviated short score format. These preliminary sketches, skeletal though they may be, define the entire melodic structure of the work. In this sense Mahler’s final testament is less unfinished than unrealized. It was not until the mid-1920s that efforts were made to bring the symphony to light with the publication of Ernst Krenek’s edition of the first and third movements and the release of a facsimile edition of the sketches. Numerous subsequent efforts have been made to refine the other three movements; the most successful of these has proved to be the “performing version” by Deryck Cooke first heard in 1960.
Over 30 recordings of the complete work in various versions have been issued since. This new chamber orchestra arrangement, by the Maltese conductor and musicologist Michelle Castelletti, is an exceptional accomplishment, quite brilliantly executed by the phenomenal John Storgårds and his Lapland Chamber Orchestra. I was initially quite skeptical that an orchestra of a mere 24 players (single woodwinds, a lone trumpet and horn, 14 strings, piano, harmonium, harp and percussion) would prove adequate to convey the impact of the 100 musicians Mahler normally employed. I was mistaken; even in these reduced circumstances the pathos of Mahler’s message still shines through in Storgårds sublime interpretation. This ranks as one of the most exciting and accomplished performances I have heard in my lifetime of terminal Mahleria.