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Gustav MAHLER(1860-1911) Symphony No. 8Symphony of a Thousand (1906)
Erika Sunnegardh (soprano); Ricarda Merbeth (soprano); Christiane
Oelze (soprano); Lioba Braun (alto); Gerhild Romberger (alto); Stephen
Gould (tenor); Dietrich Henschel (baritone); Georg Zeppenfeld (bass)
MDR Rundfunkchor; Chor der Oper Leipzig; GewandhausChor; Thomanerchor
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly
Director: Michael Beyer
Picture: 16:9, full HD
Sound: PCM stereo, dts Master Audio Surround 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French
rec. live, 26-27 May 2011, Gewandhaus zu Leipzig
ACC 10222 [92:19]
If two Mahler centenaries in quick succession has left you
maxed out – financially and figuratively – then you have my
sympathy. On the verge of overload myself, I approached Chailly’s
recent Mahler 2 – also filmed at the 2011 Leipzig Mahlerfest
– with trepidation, only to be elated and enthralled by it (review).
As I suggested there, Chailly’s Mahler cycle on CD is lacklustre,
and while his Leipzig ‘Resurrection’ may just warrant the epithet
‘old fashioned’ it’s anything but dull; indeed, it’s cogently
argued, immaculately played and sung, and it realises – in full
– the visual and sonic potential of Blu-ray.
There are so many reefs on which the Eighth can founder, from
the propulsive first movement to the long, finely spun narrative
of Part II, with its encircling choirs and lofty solos. Scanning
the list of singers, I’m pleased to see Christiane Oelze – who
made a good impression in Chailly’s Mahler 2 – and Lioba Braun,
whose ‘Urlicht’ for Jonathan Nott is a highlight of that Super
Audio set (review).
The men look promising enough, Georg Zeppenfeld familiar from
Christian Thielemann’s Beethoven Nine on C-Major DVD and Blu-ray.
The video director for this performance – recorded over two
nights – is Michael Beyer, who crops up on a number of EuroArts
and Accentus releases.
Part I of the Mahler 8, with its fervid invocations to the creative
spirit, is taxing for all involved, not least because it needs
to build, wave upon wave, before it crashes onshore in spectacular
style. That it doesn’t in this case is largely due to Chailly’s
sluggish speeds, the music all too quickly becalmed. As for
the soloists, they’re not terribly well blended, and although
the choirs are robust in the tuttis they’re apt to disappear
in a huge, warm backwash of sound. Matters improve slightly
at the return of the great hymn, but by then it’s much too late.
Antoni Wit on Blu-ray Audio – review
– is far more elemental, sensing that deep swell and letting
the waves break at their highest point. By contrast, Chailly’s
Part I lacks that mighty ebb and flow; instead, we’re presented
with a series of whorls and eddies that advance and withdraw.
Very frustrating indeed.
Not a good start, and certainly not a promising prelude to the
vast Part II. Chailly’s focus on detail – evident in Part I
– could be just what’s needed in the oft diaphanous writing
of the Faust setting; that said, a governing pulse is crucial,
or else all is lost. The Poco adagio, ideally a series
of beautifully crafted, cymbal-capped epiphanies, is a strangely
dour affair, the over-prominent pizzicati adding unwelcome
weight to Mahler’s light textures. This oddity of balance also
applies to the all-important cymbals, which are barely audible.
Indeed, watching the soloists and choirs I was struck by an
odd sense of detachment, a curious disjunct between what one
sees and hears. It’s much less noticeable when the orchestra
is in full cry, but in quieter passages and in vocal solos the
sound seems soft edged and slightly displaced from its source.
That certainly applies in stereo, and I did wonder whether this
was a mix-down from the surround track. In any event, it’s all
very synthetic and it compromises spatial relationships, the
latter so important in this work. In mitigation, the children’s
choirs are excellent, and the soloists are much more satisfying
singly than they are as a team. As for the harps, moored like
tall-masted schooners at the back of the orchestra, they sound
To borrow Whitman's phrase, this performance is 'fitful, like
a surge', so that by the time ‘Alles Vergängliche’ arrives it’s
liable to be met with indifference rather than any sense of
anticipation; and although the closing pages are quite impressive
it’s not the overwhelming conclusion one might expect. Comparing
this finale with the expansive sound of that ‘Resurrection’
is instructive, the latter’s cumulative power and fearless dynamics
infinitely preferable to the ungainly apotheosis of this Eighth.
I could easily forgive the peculiar balances and veiled sonics
if the performance were up to snuff, but this uninspired reading
just reminds me of those old Chailly CDs; worthy, but ultimately
If you must have the Eighth on Blu-ray I would put away that
credit card and wait for Claudio Abbado’s version, the concerts
planned for Lucerne later this year. On DVD there’s always Leonard
Bernstein (DG) or Klaus Tennstedt (EMI), but if you don’t mind
Blu-ray without the visuals Wit offers high-resolution sound
– in stereo at least, the surround track is problematic – plus
all the insight and urgency Chailly’s version so sorely lacks.
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