Mahler: Symphony No. 8

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler Symphony No. 8
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Sylvia Greenberg, Lynne Dawson, Sally Matthews, Sophie Kloch, Elena Manistina, Robert Gambill, Detlef Roth, Jan Henndrik Rootering, Berlin Radio Chorus, Leipzig MDR Radio Chorus, Windsbach Children’s Choir, German Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano
Kent Nagano, the back-cover blurb


declares, takes us away from the

concept of Mahler’s Eighth as a

gargantuan symphony of a thousandstrong

personnel and reveals instead

a ‘thousand teeming details’. This is true, certainly of the opening ‘Veni

creator spiritus’. The youthfulsounding,

focused but still fire-drunk

choruses manage to project the text

along with all the counterpoint,

while Mahler’s spooky interludes

between the great blazes sound truly

phantasmagorical. Of the soloists,

asked to present a unified face in this

first movement, only two stand out

– mezzo Sophie Koch, by virtue of

the irrepressible personality which

outshines all the others, and Robert

Gambill, because a Heldentenor was

never meant to scale down as part of a

team (though Ben Heppner managed

it on Chailly’s fitfully brilliant

recording for Decca).

Come the individual set pieces

on the long road to Goethe’s vision

of universal harmony in the vast

second movement, and there are some

ugly sounds from Lynne Dawson’s

Penitent and Elena Manistina’s

Maria Aegyptiaca. More worryingly,

Nagano drags both the men’s solos

and virtually grinds to a halt when

the music ought to take wing; gear

changes which were only momentarily

problematic in the first movement

cripple the heavenward journey. It’s a

pity, because Nagano starts the ‘final

scene from Faust ’ with great intensity,

while collective forces and heroic

engineering combine for sheer ecstasy

at the end. It’s certainly a better shot

than most recent contenders, avoiding

crucial pitfalls of balance; but a more

consistently vivid if unashamedly

operatic celebration with a first-class

team of soloists remains Solti’s one

great Mahler recording on Decca.


David Nice