Mahler: Symphony No. 8
Mariss Jansons’s line up of Wagnerian soloists for this live Concertgebouw Mahler spectacular is possibly the most impressive since Georg Solti’s classic 1971 recording. It includes the most opulent Isolde of the day, Christine Brewer – sounding a little better on the bonus DVD than on the CD – to crown the ‘Veni creator spiritus’, and the most reliable Tristan, Robert Dean Smith. How extraordinary, too, to have a second mezzo, Mihoko Fujimura, who sounds as distinctive as the first, sympathetic Stephanie Blythe. Professional voices in the massed choirs ballast the blaze of the Pentecostal hymn setting, ending with the most colossal of conflagrations.
If this still doesn’t rise quite to the top of my list of recorded Mahler Eights, it’s partly because Jansons doesn’t ‘do’ impetuous from the outset as Mahler asks. His orchestra comes sharply into focus to conjure Goethe’s craggy landscape at the start of the second part’s Faust adventure, and the naive angel and cherubim choruses are delicious, but warm Concertgebouw acoustics sometimes work against full impact. To compare this finely recorded and interpreted odyssey with a live experience that rises to greater heights, listen to the last 20 minutes in Markus Stenz’s Cologne performance. Even if Stenz can’t boast as unanimously fine a team of singers, with the build and the entry of the chorus the real magic happens there, as it never quite does on this occasion.