Mahler Symphony No. 8
Even the closing credits are giddying: against the Caracas background of football-stadium euphoria, the fast-rolling list of every chorister drawn from 17 Venezualan states takes nearly four minutes to pass before our eyes. This Symphony of much more than a thousand, with nearly 200 in the combined forces of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simón Bolívar Symphony, maximises the advantages of group spirit and minimises the problems of monstrosity. The beginning, middle and end of Mahler’s first-movement hymn to the creator spirit blaze with unsurpassable, open-toned fervour; and if the river-surge upwards to the heavenly regions of the second movement’s Wagnerian Faust-drama flows over sometimes rocky terrain – I’m still not entirely convinced by Dudamel’s tempo relations – it reaches its dazzling goal. Maybe you can’t get forces of this size to sing truly pianissimo, and I wish Dudamel had scythed back to a true semi-chorus ‘mysticus’; maybe it’s asking too much for the pitching to be spot-on throughout.
On the evidence of an oddly bloodless Mahler Nine from Dudamel’s LA Phil, I guess it’s the fervent Simón Bolívar strings who bring true intensity to the tremolos and heart to the soarings. The top-notch team of soloists has its blowsy moments; most transporting are second soprano Julianna di Giacomo and baritone Brian Mulligan. It’s a shame Mahler’s work gets barely a mention in the notes; that’s partly remedied by the short documentary, coasting on Dudamel’s infectious enthusiasm. The event, though, is unique; enjoy it for what it is.