ALBUM TITLE: Mahler Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Twyla Robinson, Erin Wall, Adriane Queiroz (soprano), Michelle DeYoung, Simone Schröder (mezzo-soprano), Johan Botha (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone), Robert Holl (bass); Tobias Berndt (organ);
German State Opera Chorus, Berlin; Berlin Radio
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6597
Mahler’s music made a decisive impact on the German modernists who succeeded him, but most recent attempts to reclaim Mahler the Modernist in performance have foundered on listeners’ prevailing expectation that emotional catharsis lies at the very heart of Mahler’s achievement. Pierre Boulez, for instance, promotes a clear, unsentimental approach to Mahler, for which he has received a mixed reception. His Mahler cycle now comes to completion with the work with which Boulez might be imagined to have the least sympathy. Some passages respond admirably when experienced through Boulez’s lenses – fugal writing in Part 1 sounds cogent and expressive even when not overheated in the usual manner, for example. At least as frequently, however, Boulez seems reluctant to search out the music that lies behind the notation, or even to admit that there is such a thing. Whenever energy lags (a more frequent occurrence in Part 2 than in Part 1) the explanation usually lies in a dogmatically literal realization of one detail or another.
Although other conductors (Horenstein, Bernstein, and Tennstedt among them) surpass Boulez in surge and flow, DG here achieves some remarkable recorded sound: full yet transparent, unusually immediate yet not excessively taxed or modified by climaxes, the only flaw is the unrealistically (but forgivably) forward balancing of the vocal soloists, among whom tenor Johan Botha is most consistently satisfactory. Ultimately, the Solti/Decca combination of excitement, import, and brilliance still tops the field of recorded Mahler Eights.