In concert – CBSO / Robert Treviño – Mahler’s 10th symphony

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Robert Treviño

Mahler, ed. Cooke Symphony no.10 in F sharp major (1910)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 18 May 2023

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has a notable association with Mahler’s Tenth Symphony – realized by Deryck Cooke – having given memorable performances with Simon Rattle and more recently with Sakari Oramo. This evening’s account was to have been taken by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, but her indisposition brought American conductor Robert Treviño to the helm for what was a memorable performance that vindicated (if such were needed) this ‘performing edition’ and hinted at what might develop into a notable partnership in the future.

The quality of string playing these days means the initial viola melody no longer poses quite the risks it once did. Treviño went on to shape this opening Adagio with a sure sense of how its contrasting themes are drawn into an evolution whose unpredictability is informed by an emotional candour, heard at its most explicit in the climactic dissonance (evidently added at a late stage) such as makes the beatific coda the more affecting. Nor did he fail to tease out the underlying continuity of music shot through with the knowledge of its own dissolution.

Such an issue is more graphically present in the first Scherzo, its contrapuntal texture fitfully realized in the score but here achieved with a deftness making the trade-off between its polka- and ländler-like ideas the more potent. Not least during the later stages of a movement where these themes alternate with ever increasing frequency, as if in a stretto of activity, on the way to the most decisive and even affirmative conclusion found in Mahler’s late music. Treviño’s opting not to tone down those more unlikely percussive touches proved its own justification.

Almost Mahler’s shortest symphonic movement, the Purgatorio is yet crucial to the overall design – the ‘treadmill’ motion of its outer sections exuding acute irony, with the histrionics at its centre firmly held in check so their implications were made more than usually evident.

Performances of this work most often founder in the second Scherzo, but not here – Treviño launching it with anguished intent, while maintaining a persuasive balance between this and the more consoling element which informs its progress. The brief central interlude conveyed exquisite pathos, tension barely receding as the expression gradually and inevitably subsides into crepuscular activity with its fleeting intimations of what went before and what is still to come. Just one bass-drum stroke, surely, is needed to separate this movement from the finale.

That said, the unfolding of this latter left nothing to chance – whether in the sepulchral gloom of its initial bars, the poise of its indelible melody for flute, or a central phase of activity that here emerged as the natural consequence of what went before. Treviño (rightly) retained the additional percussion necessary to make the return of the first movement’s climax the more shattering – the sheer eloquence of what followed building to a rapturous culmination which, as with the closing emotional wrench, drew an unfaltering response from the CBSO strings.

A memorable performance, and one that met with an enthusiastic response. Treviño brought the soloists and sections to their feet, but might have started with trumpeter Jason Lewis and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic – their contributions typifying the excellence of the whole.

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website. For more on Robert Trevino, visit his website

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