Symphony No. 8

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Gustav Mahler
LABELS: Accentus Music
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Ricarda Merbeth, Juliane Banse, Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Sara Mingardo (contralto), Andreas Schager (tenor), Peter Mattei (baritone), Samuel Youn (bass-baritone); Bavarian Radio Choir; Latvian Radio Choir; Orféon Donostiarra; Tölz Boys’ Choir; Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly


This should have been worthy DVD closure both for Claudio Abbado’s peerless Lucerne Mahler cycle – he never conducted the Eighth Symphony there – and for Riccardo Chailly’s series, otherwise seen in Leipzig and a fine second-best. That it fails, for me, is due mostly to the soloists. As in a Wagner opera, you can take one or two less-than-bests in a line-up, but not five out of eight singers.

Ensemble blend in the opening ‘Veni creator spiritus’ is poor, with heldentenor Andreas Schager belting it out and soprano Ricarda Merbeth’s wide vibrato hit and miss at the top. Relief comes in the orchestral introduction to the cosmic closing scene from Goethe’s Faust. Chailly paces it more swiftly and less atmospherically than usual, but in close succession we see and hear many of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra’s bedrocks: flautist Jacques Zoon, horn-player Alessio Allegrini, trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich. Then it’s off the rails with the voices again: the baritone part lies too high for Peter Mattei, while Samuel Youn makes a word-insensitive bluster of the sequel. Mezzos Sara Mingardo and Mihoko Fujimura shine, and Juliane Banse carries the Gretchen stretch through sheer determination, but the brief appearance of Anna Lucia Richter from aloft doesn’t sound good. 

The four choirs are magnificent, especially in the fugal writing at the heart of Part I, and the end is resplendent, but Chailly’s less than easy rubato means too many bumps along the way. What a disappointment. It’s also a pity that the DVD lacks his enlightenment in interview, always a boon in his Leipzig series.


David Nice