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Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Munich Philharmonic Choir, Munich Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev (Müncher Philharmoniker)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphony No. 8 ‘Symphony of a Thousand’
Simone Schneider, Jacquelyn Wagner, Regula Mühlemann, Katharina Magiera, Claudia Mahnke, Simon O’Neill, Michael Nagy and Evgeny Nikitin (voices); Munich Philharmonic Choir; Orfeon Donostiarra; Augsburger Domsingknaben; Munich Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev
Müncher Philharmoniker MPHIL0016   72.39 mins

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It’s demoralising, especially for a reviewer, to find that a recorded performance falls at the first hurdle. Valery Gergiev is not the only conductor to ignore the essential ‘impetuoso’ marking in the opening of what should be a great blaze of a pentecostal hymn; the greatest of Mahlerians, Claudio Abbado, didn’t seem to get it either in his only recording of the Eighth Symphony. You really need professional voices here, like those of Vienna State Opera in Solti’s 1971 Chicago spectacular, still a top recommendation. Without the urging to ‘go for it,’ the combined forces of the Munich Philharmonic Choir and Orfeon Donostiarra, slightly recessed, sound too invertebrate. The movement is expertly paced, with an exciting slowing down into the return of the initial ‘Veni creator spiritus’, but without incandescence.

Of the soloists – who need to form an essential chain of excellence – the women come off better. There are two luminous lyric sopranos on the top lines, Simone Schneider and Jacquelyn Wagner, who express much of the sweetness needed as Part Two soars heavenward. The men just about manage the stress of their high-lying parts but convey much less of the meaning. The Munich Philharmonic, which as the Kaim Orchestra, participated in the thousand-plus premiere in their city under Mahler’s guidance, is good, but the first violins need more muscle. The performance was recorded, expertly, in Paris’s Philharmonie – a vast improvement on Gergiev’s previous LSO recording, where engineers achieved a miracle in the mush of St Paul’s Cathedral. Again, like much of Gergiev’s disappointingly superficial Mahler, serviceable, no more. David Nice

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David Nice