I have a long ingrained loathing for jugglers – if it is a near impossibility to spin eight plates simultaneously, that’s probably because plates were designed to be stationary household items from which you eat your dinner. And listening to Christopher White’s solo piano Mahler 10 – surely the strangest recorded artefact likely to emerge from this Mahler anniversary year – I heard someone juggling the impossible. Some aspects of White’s athleticism and dexterousness are undeniably impressive, but I wonder if this performance really does Mahler any favours.
Reviews elsewhere have questioned why White didn’t pick on earlier Mahler symphonies, perhaps no. 5 for which Mahler’s piano rolls might set a precedent. That misses the point: White’s transcriptions of movements two to five where designed to complement Ronald Stevenson’s existing transcription of the first movement and, to be fair, neither man claims this as “authentic” Mahler; the form of words White has concocted suggest a ‘piano commentary’ on the ‘performing draft (by Deryck Cooke) of the uncompleted Tenth Symphony’.
But the concept quickly wears thin. The inner complexities of Mahler’s Tenth bust through conventional orchestral boundaries and, inevitably, leaves the piano wanting – the nine-note expressionist screech in the first movement translates into a series of weightless tremolos, and the bass drum strikes that herald the last movement becomes hollow, tinny clusters. There just aren’t enough strikingly diverse timbres to tell Mahler’s story, a situation not helped by a needlessly, one-dimensional recording environment.