Mahler, Schoenberg

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler,Schoenberg
LABELS: Hänssler faszinationmusik
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Laura Aikin, Christiane Boesiger, Alessandra Marc, Margaret Jane Wray (soprano), Eugenie Grunewald, Dagmar Pecková (contralto), Thomas Harper, Guy Renard, Glenn Winslade (tenor), Hanno Müller-Brachmann, John Bröcheler, James Johnson, Anthony Michaels-Moor
Michael Gielen rivals Riccardo Chailly in the fascinating contexts he provides for his Mahler cycle, and this is the most challenging yet, with the massive fin de siècle optimism of the Eighth Symphony preceded by the open-ended quest for faith in Schoenberg’s uncompleted Jakobsleiter (begun several years after Mahler’s death). One wonders how Schoenberg could have resolved the tormented questions posed to angel Gabriel by the lost souls at the foot of the ladder – not, surely, through the free-atonal medium which Gielen so rigorously pulls into expressive focus. The sensurround conclusion – is it really so different from the wordless women’s chorus at the end of Holst’s The Planets? – is inconclusive; the only possible ending, as in Moses und Aron.


The unified vision Gielen brings to Winfried Zillig’s fascinating performing edition of the Schoenberg fragment is only possible thanks to the intelligence of the singers and players involved. Inevitably, perhaps, given the Wagnerian demands Mahler places upon his soloists, several unwieldy sacred monsters stomp across the canvas of the Mahler; the recording makes it worse by putting them in the spotlight. Suffice it to say that only Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Pater ecstaticus and Margaret Jane Wray’s intelligent pointing of the text offer the right kind of dedicated drama. The glorified cathedral-choir sound of the EuropaChorAkademie makes one desperately miss the operatic might of Solti’s Vienna State Opera Chorus, and although Gielen draws some trenchant playing from his orchestra in the early stages, transcendence is sold short as the symphony wings its way heavenwards. David Nice