Mahler: Symphony No. 8

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Studer, McNair, von Otter, Seifert, Terfel, Rootering; Berlin Radio Chorus, Prague Philharmonic Chorus, Tölz Boys Choir, Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
As one Mahler cycle concludes with a blaze of light, another more selective survey begins in deepest tragedy. Since, however, this is Boulez, the tragedy is not as unremitting as it can be. As with his swiftly emotional Bayreuth Ring, the meeting of a rigorous, unencumbered intelligence and an orchestra steeped in the music of the composer in question pays dividends. Predictably, the first movement’s grim march character is ruthlessly focused, the brass ensembles blended to perfection; but I had not anticipated such tidal waves between the finale’s second and (deleted) third hammer-blows of fate: stupendous as impeccably balanced and engineered sound, but also some of the highest-temperature Mahler playing in recorded history. And apart from a few moments of apparent impatience at the heart of the Andante, Boulez’s case for the inner movements makes sense on its own terms. A revelation.


Abbado, surprisingly, makes a less impressive start with the Eighth’s gigantic motet of a first movement. Allegro impetuoso, says the score, but what we have is a plain welcoming of the creator spirit with no driving inspiration. In his element conjuring hushed, nebulous new worlds in the Faust-based Part Two, Abbado’s progress is hampered by uneven soloists: Terfel’s impassioned Pater ecstaticus, for a start, only accentuates Rootering’s lesser fervour and focus in the ensuing solo. Järvi (BIS) and Sinopoli (DG) – again, surprisingly – both boast more unanimous and more naturally recorded journeys to the spheres. David Nice