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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 8 - Gergiev

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Reviews: 7

Site review by Castor March 29, 2009
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by gonzostick July 19, 2009 (5 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Great recording of an exciting performance. Unfortunately, the soloists have the wrong vocal coloring for this music: think Mahler with the voices of Boris Godounov...

Still the performance is very entertaining and the choral singing and orchestral playing is first rate.

Because I have four huge equal tower speakers that are flat to 10Hz, I did notice the organ is in the gallery, IN THE REAR CHANNELS!!! So, this disc, like the Linn SACD of organ concertos, has a back channel, full-range pipe organ. I am going to assume the orchestra was placed in the nave of the church with Gergiev between the organ and orchestra. The grand finale of the work will shake your listening room with sheer power, especially in the bass frequencies.

The producers have done a wonderful job of catching the sound of this performance, though I wish they had hired different soloists. They are good and sing fine, except for that annoying Slavic vibrato that can crack anyone's plaster...

Well worth the purchase price, especially now that the San Francisco Symphony Mahler 8th has been finally announced for release, to complete Michael Tilson Thomas' cycle.

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Review by sperlsco September 6, 2009 (12 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
For my money, this recording is the best all-around M8 – especially in multi-channel surround. I would not call it my favorite recording, but would certainly make it my first recommendation to someone looking for an M8. Why? While it may not be the best in any single area, it is very good-to-excellent in every aspect – conducting, playing, solo singing, organ, sound, and the excellent finales of Parts I & II.

Conducting: Gergiev conducts very well, not rushing through key areas as he does in much of his other Mahler. He generally builds naturally to climaxes and other musical events, varying his tempi slightly and flexibly. There are a few areas where I am not thrilled with his tempi choices, but that is true of any performance. The recent Inbal/Tokyo is probably the best conducted M8 in my collection in terms of both horizontal and vertical conducting.

Playing: The London Symphony plays like one of the world’s great orchestras. There is strong playing from all areas of the orchestra. The strings are full bodied, the brass are strong and clear, the winds shine, and the percussion is excellent. Some of the details of Mahler’s specialty instruments don’t quite come to the forefront as well as in the recent Inbal performance.

Solo Singing: All of the soloists have excellent voices if you can get around some of their accents. If you require a pure German accent you may be bothered a bit. Since I listen to voices in Mahler symphonies as if they are instruments, I am more interested in the timbre, strength, range, and purity of the voice. The Dr. Marianus and Gretchen soloists are critical to me – and these are two of the better voices to sing the parts. To me, this cast of voices almost challenges the ones in the Solti and Kubelik/Audite recordings for the best cast of soloists.

Organ: The organ is HUGE! In multi-channel, the organ comes from all around you. In stereo (i.e. when I’ve listened in my car), the organ tends to drown out some details – details which come through quite well in multi-channel. It is quite special to listen to the reverberation of the large hall at the ends of Part I and II.

Musical events: As you’d expect with the huge organ, the beginning and ending(s) of the symphony are overwhelming. The culmination of the fugue in Part I is well done, even if Gergiev does not make it as special as Inbal does with his slight tempi variations. End of Part I is thrilling, as Gergiev builds and releases the tension at the coda with the off-stage brass coming from left rear speakers. In Part II, the children’s choir is captured particularly well. The Mater Gloriosa starts briefly in the front right speaker and moves to the rear left one – giving a nice floating effect. The pace of the ending of Part II is a little faster than my ideal, but it is thrilling nonetheless -- given all of the organ, the clarity of the brass, the huge cymbal crashes (with adequate support from the tam-tam -- especially on the last smash), and the offstage brass actually coming from another location in my room (rear left speaker)!

So…why would I pick this performance as a first recommendation over all of my other first tier favorites? I probably think that the recent Inbal/Tokyo M8 is the best conducted of all, has spectacular stereo sound, and also has the best ending to Parts I & II. I will probably even listen to it more often than the Gergiev. Unfortunately, the cast of soloists is far from being top notch. I can look at others in my first tier of favorite M8’s and make similar eliminations:

Sinopoli/PO - Droopy tempi’s in Part I
Chailly/RCOA – Underwhelming Beginning to Part I
Bertini/Cologne – Soloists are not top notch
Neumann/Czech PO and Solti/CSO – Underwhelming finale to Part II (particularly the Solti)
Bernstein/VPO/DVD – Mediocre Sound
Nagano/DSO Berlin – Unacceptably poor Gretchen soprano

I feel that the Gergiev excels in all areas, even if other performances may be better in one aspect or another. As such, I would recommend it as a first choice to someone looking for an M8 – particularly if they’re looking to have just one in their collection. Oh yeah, and one other thing...this recommendation relates to the multi-channel surround version. The stereo version indeed has less clarity and negatively impacts the climaxes!

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Review by hkpat March 31, 2010 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
The famous Leonard Bernstein used to comment that one cannot exaggerate the music of Gustav Mahler enough, and arguably, Bernstein proved his own dictum through the accomplished interpretations he left behind for Deutsche Grammophon and Columbia. Since his death nearly two decades ago, many conductors have taken this composer’s music far beyond the extremes that Bernstein recounted, particularly in the subject of tempo – specifically slow tempi. One probably never imagined there would be a time when adjectives such as "poised" and "balanced" would fit as signatures of Bernstein's Mahler, but now more than ever, they certainly do. After all, under-playing is every bit as severe a defect as a preponderance to excess. As an interpreter, many of Bernstein's most celebrated testaments were based on his keen adherence to a literal reading of the score: that is what made his Haydn ever so rejoicing, for example, never mind his Mahler.

These ideas swirled to mind after listening to Valery Gergiev’s latest Mahler Eighth in continuation of the complete cycle with the London Symphony. Here is a performance of great emotional extremes, one that squeezes every drop of expression in between the notated score, and takes the time in doing so. The first part runs just over 20 minutes, while the remainder part to nearly 55, and yet, neither parts sound uncomfortably out of place. One may be familiar with the false dichotomy often seen from notes and commentaries of Mahler performances, rejecting the idea of "self-indulgent" interpretations over "symphonic" ones. The former is characterized, as in this performance, by generous use of rubato and broad fluctuations of tempo between sections; the latter by fewer contrasts and (albeit, usually) a swifter, less dissected view to the whole picture. Historically, Bernstein was the epitome of the former approach; conductors like Kubelik and Haitink represented the latter.

The reason this dichotomy is unwarranted is clear: Mahler's Symphonies depend on their structural qualities as much as the myriad of expressive colours from the conductor's willingness to explore into the extremes of tempo, dynamics, timbre, and texture that these works embody. The million-dollar question is: how much really is too much? Obviously this will differ from one listener to the next, and hence, there may be some who find this Eighth Symphony to be "too much.” This aside, it should be acknowledged that Gergiev’s interpretation, like Bernstein's, bases its excesses (if that is what they are called) firmly in what Mahler wrote, and not on some gratuitous whim of the conductor.

Now, here comes the bad news.
In fitting with the spiritual text to which this music is based, the St Paul's Cathedral would have been an ultimate destination of choice. But what should have been a crowning glory of the mighty “Symphony of a Thousand” was bestowed with mixed blessings also because of this choice in venue. The newly restored St Paul's Cathedral, situated directly off the Millennium Bridge from the South Bank, is a wondrous monument, provoking a silent awe beneath its great dome for those who have visited. But clearly, even from its marvels and the sonic enhancements captured on this SACD recording, St. Paul’s Cathedral is not a place for music of this scale. As an analogy, this extraordinary score sounded as if someone smeared the score with ink while it is still wet. Mahler would not have rejoiced on the venue choice to recast his musical “gift for the whole nation” – which was a major limitation in this recording that swayed it away from a full star rating. For instance, the opening "Veni, Creator Spiritus" roared into open space, but promptly disappeared, possibly heavenward.

Second, in Mahler's setting of the final scene from Goethe's Faust, the solo voices become individuals – or at least should. Excellent though his eight principally Russian soloists were, their most fervent efforts were drained from presence by a total lack of intimacy and immediacy off the speakers. Both sopranos – Viktoria Yastrebova and Ailish Tynan – sang full and true and there was a virile, intrepid tenor in Sergey Semishkur. The summoning of the “Mater Gloriosa,” where the LSO's sweetest violin sound floated on a cushion of harmonium, brought a moment of magical calamity. It would be the kind of serenity that passes all understanding. But, then came poor Liudmila Dudinova’s singing that followed, whose voice was regrettably flat. Still, the Chorus promptly arrived in a breathtaking hush of massed voices to take charge on the ascendancy. A pity, even with an audio system aptly equipped, the off-stage trumpets stretching the "Veni, Creator Spiritus" motif could barely be heard.

Sonically, this SACD multichannel recording would have captured the full depth and breath of music performed in this venue, and one could only guess how Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde would sound here, for example. Surprisingly, the SACD also suffered askew balances, giving one the impression of a sound perspective of being seated in the last row of the Cathedral’s hall. At times, the vocals would seem completely drowned by the instrumentalists, as in the opening of “Veni, creator spiritus” or later between 1:30 – 1:41 of “Accende lumen sensibus.” However, given these critical apprehensions, there is no question that the interpretative understanding and partnership of Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony represents yet another tour de force collaboration in the music world today. The ensemble plays truthfully out for him, and this in turn gave Gergiev the assurance he needs to commit entirely to his interpretive ideas, certain of their effective realization. All of this is clearly audible in this otherwise fine recording of Mahler’s almighty Eighth.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

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Review by Ian Xavier Roskell April 24, 2012 (9 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Mahler's eighth, even on Paper it looks mammoth; too large to organize or have any orientation, but yet few conductors have triumphioned at taming such a wild and wonderful beast such as Mahler's eight symphony. One of the conductors is now Gergiev. It is my own personal belief that nothing is better than seeing a classical piece live, and yet more and more I am being disproven by such great recordings and even greater sonics. This is one of those recordings, so well made that no longer am I hearing the music from speakers or headphone, or even my ears but much better as I sat down to put this record on I expected to be entertained mildly by what I expected would be another decent but not moving recording.
Times have changed, as that first low organ-pedal note hit from the bass speakers it redifined what I call music, the first piece of Mahler I was to hear was the eight symphony, after a friend had suggested it to me.
Having liked romanticism like Wagner and Berlioz a friend suggested this name..."Mahler, Gustav Mahler."
I remember how skeptical I was when hearing that name, how ashamed I am for having not known his name.
I ordered this disk almost immaedetly, this friend had compared to the Handel's messiah, verdi's requiem, beethovens 9th.
He made the very heavy statement of saying that this symphony made these very famous pieces look like a "group of choir boys" in almost every way he is right, I ordered the complete LSO/Gergiev-Mahler symphony cycle. With this of course being the most large and epic, compared to the dozens of other Mahler recordings that exist, SACD or CD this is all around the best. All that Mahler's score calls for is heard on a the scale it was meant to be...the organ making a massive affect everywhere it is heard, the choir singing strong, but never breaking over the top and wailing at the top of their lungs.
The orchestra gives a fine performance as the LSO always has.
And against all the large forces even the smaller touching moments Mahler has scored is never missed, the Contrast between the section of harmonium, harp, Celeste before the large finale is a great gergiev and the small number of performers playing make just as a dramatic affect as the hundred of players that follow them. All around the best Recording of the mahler 8 availble on SACD. But of course like every recording there are flaws, such as in the first movement, the veni creator spiritus, the choir gives a strong performance but in the vast acoustics of the church it was recorded in...there are overlapping echoes, in the first movement it disturbs the notes, each one echoing into the next. This goes on throughout the reading of the hymn, as Mahler has writ this there a periods of phrases, with rests inbetween followed by more phrases with each gap allowing for that reverburation to break through the playing. This is mostly a issue in the first movement with only brief noted and phrases in the second echoing into another note, but I do not hold this against the recording to much, as it adds a very nice affect at the end of movements, or during the buildups, and slowdowns inbetween differently themed portions of the movement, particularly after doctor mariunus "Blicket auf" the brass
And timpani slowly quiet down until the arrival of the piccolos and harp. In these cases the revirburation adds a very large feel to the music.
The tempo could be called fast for the closing scene "alles vergangliche" but yet I find if I listen to the piece in its context gergiev made a wonderful choice, but out of context it seems fast. (still might not fully accept the logic behind that choice in musical taste.)
All these thing I said before we're about the multi-Channel experience, which is surprisingly is different that the stereo mix.
First is that the organ and many of the louder instruments during the second movement are much more prominent than 5.1, it's not a strong difference but it is there for all the world to hear.
If I can suggest anything to anybody it would be that, have a great sound system listening to this, this is the kind of music we buy those expense sets for, with wonderous sections of tranquil serenity, to low organ driven notes that overwhelm you, Mahler's eighth is a exciting and epic listen, this SACD captures it. It is my belief that nothing is better than seeing it live but with such a phenomenal recording like this you don't have to be in the concert hall to be moved...after the last tam-tam crash came the brass and organ, ending this recording on a beatiful note I was awe-inspired never before have I been so moved by music, personally the 8th is one of my favorite pieces...why? Because it is so moving, few conductors over the years have captured in a recording the full emotion and the large, dramatic force of this work, but here is one of the few that did...wonderful. Enjoy this I certainly did.

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Review by Luukas January 17, 2014 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony is composer's largest symphony: it's nickname is "Symphony of Thousands".
Long time ago I heard Sir Simon Rattle's performance of Mahler 8th symphony (Emi Classics). I like it, but when I heard this, Valery Gergiev's performance with massive forces, I was surprising: London Symphony Orchestra plays marvelous, and soloist sings well. This performance is recorded in St. Pauls Catedral, and it's long acoustics is very good for this work. This is flawless and excellent performance of Mahler's masterpiece.
Symphony's first part uses old Latin text, "Veni Creator Spiritus". It begins organ's ff E-flat major accord, and St. Pauls organ's sound is stunning. Off-stage bands (for first and second parts ends) are also stunning: I heard them at in surround speakers, as Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Mahler's second symphony (read my review). The second part text is end of Goethe's "Faust".
5.1 multichannel recording is perfect. Absolutely, this is best performance of this work!

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Review by Fordiebianco June 13, 2015 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
This is without doubt my favourite classical 5.1 SACD recording. Picking up on the other reviewers comments, the engineering is vastly superior to the other recordings of Mahler's 8th, revealing aspects of the music I wasn't able to pick up on some of the other recordings. Interestingly enough the stereo version pales in comparison. I agree with the other reviews that the interpretation of this staggering work is perfectly fine and sits happily next to Rattle, Boulez and the other highly rated versions.

A firm favourite in my collection.

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