Review on Rattle's two 10th
Time now for another review.
This time it's Rattle's two recordings of the 10th. I've owned Rattle's 10th with Berliner Philharmoniker for a long time and love it very much. I have long believed it to be the best version of this symphony, even tho I never did any comparison. Earlier in this thread DarkAngel mentioned that he likes Rattle's recording with Bournemouth SO better, which haunted me for weeks, wondering if I'm missing out an even better performance. So I ordered a used copy from Amazon and after a few days of listening produced this review:
Overall: Sound quality wise, I found the BSO version of be more exciting, It sounded more forward and instrument separation is almost too good. I suspect it might be a studio recording (too lazy to look up in booklet), but the amount of ambient noise suggested otherwise. This, however, doesn't mean the BP version doesn't sound good. It is very neutral and packs an amazing amount of detail. Performance wise, BP was much more balanced, which I think is more appropriate. I've read reviews that state the BSO version to correspond to Mahler's later chamber music-like style better. If so, then the ensemble must have been made of a bunch of bullies as solo instruments were constantly battling each other. They jump out whenever they have a chance, leaving no space for the instruments exiting the theme. In retaliation the exiting instruments lingered around for a little longer. The outcome was rather disasterous, IMHO.
In the first movement, BP was somewhat slower, which build good foundation for the entire performance since there are numerous references to the first movement in later movements (esp. the finale). Elements of terror gradually creep in and finally lead to the horrifying (literally if you're not expect a full out attack of brass) moment. This process works much better in BP's slower performance.
To be honest, I found the performance of BSO's strings in this movement to be more engaging, although a little fatiguing as well. I certainly could understand if someone prefers this recording because of the adagio. In his later recording with BP, Rattle seemed to have chosen a better integrated sound image, which resulted in a more subtle adagio. However, this approach worked very, very well for the last two movements, as will be describled later. Also, the more exciting strings of BSO also subdued the forementioned moment of horror.
As an interesting sidenote, at exact 23:00 in the BP recording, the marching drum appeared to be hit accidentally. If I was that guy in percussions I'd have dug a hole in the ground and hid in it (it was live performance).
My impression on the first scherzo is that BP sounded much more articulate. There's a lot of changes in tempo and dynamics in this movement, and BP navigated through them with ease. I think the difference in quality of those two orchestras is no more apparant than in this movement.
Again, BP's performance was splendid in purgatorio. There's no much difference in intepretation of this and the previous movement between the two versions (none that I could find, anyway).
The second scherzo is very powerful scherzo material. The alternation was despair -> cheerful waltz -> blend. The alternation between themes become more and more rapid and dramatic; creating an impression that the happiness was only superficial and never meant to last. Wood winds of BP incorporated into the overall texture much better. Brass winds played a very important role in the change of themes and BP really shined as well. As can be imagined, BSO's battling instruments didn't work too well and the transistions sounded stiff and harsh.
The last movement. As mentioned before, the BP recording was much better balanced. BSO's percussion stood out to an almost unbearable level and can be quite distracting. My comment about instruments battling each other was also largely from this movement. In comparison, solo plays of BP were of much higher quality.