Mahler: Symphony No. 8

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Viktoria Yastrebova, Ailish Tynan, Liudmila Dudinova (soprano), Lilli Paasikivi, Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo-soprano), Sergey Semiskur (tenor), Alexey Markov (baritone), Evgeny Nikitin (bass); Choir of Eltham College; Choral Arts Society of Washington; London Symphony Chorus; LSO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0669 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Mahler’s Eighth involves so many performers that recording it presents perpetual challenges: how can a space large enough to handle the forces be manipulated to obtain a sense of both the work’s overall scope and its felicitous detail?

Concertgoers who, in July 2008, experienced the live performances at St Paul’s Cathedral from which this recording is assembled could obtain visual cues concerning the texture and activity of the music. As a strictly aural experience, however, the most distinctive feature of this release is the resonance – or, to be blunt, the muddiness – of the recorded sound.

The difficulties the recording engineers faced can be gauged by the six-second decay heard after the release of loud final chords. Except in lightly scored passages, a nimbus of reverberation – occasionally appropriate but usually distracting – surrounds or even obscures the proceedings.

As a result, it’s difficult to assess Gergiev’s interpretation. His attention to characterisation is sometimes in evidence, but elsewhere he seems to tailor tempos and articulations to the venue rather than to some ideal conception. Introspection in this setting tends to sound under-energised, and the mostly Russian vocal soloists impart a Slavic flavour unusual in this work.

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In short, insofar as it is possible to convey Mahler’s vast conception through an audio recording, it can only be achieved under more controlled conditions. Solti’s dynamic and well-cast Decca version is much better tailored for recording than this new account. David Breckbill