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  Mahler: Symphony No. 8 - Inbal
  Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
Eliahu Inbal (conductor)
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Reviews: 1

Review by sperlsco June 28, 2009 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Surprisingly, this one is a real winner. In some respect, I shouldn’t be “surprised” because Inbal’s first commercial M8 attempt (Denon/Brilliant label) is very good. Also, the Tokyo Met SO recently made some very nice recordings under the baton of Bertini. However, I was most disappointed with the Bertini TMSO M8, which was way too single-mindedly fast and had generally sub-par singing from the all-Japanese cast – especially from the three male soloists. The Gretchen from that performance was probably the best of the singers, although not quite top flight (a bit timid in voice) – and carries over to this performance where she does the Magna Peccatrix part (at least I am assuming). The two altos, Mater Gloriosa, and the tenor also carry over from the Bertini to the Inbal performance. Fortunately, the tenor does not repeat his poor performance and is much improved here. He tends to bark out his words a bit, but at least he is strong voiced. I may not LOVE the singing here, but it is good enough – and MUCH better than the Bertini/TMSO. The different bass and baritone singers are a much-needed improvement.

This is generally a brisk performance, clocking in at about 74 minutes (excluding 30 seconds of applause at the end) – which puts it on the faster side of the spectrum along with Jarvi/Gothenburg (just over 70’), Kubelick/Audite (72’) and the aforementioned Bertini (72’). What Inbal does much better than any of them is make slight variations of tempi to build and release the tension at critical points. To my ears, the other two sound like sprints from start-to-finish – whereas Inbal has very good feel for the music and all of its transitions, even at tempi that I tend to think of as too fast.

This is a stereo-only SACD that features superb, crystal-clear sound. There is an amazing amount of transparency, whereby you can hear many layers of music. This pays particular dividends in the amount of woodwind detail. Also, many of Mahler’s special-use instruments standout (mandolin, celesta, piano, harps, ...) The downside is that it clearly picks up Inbal’s humming and singing throughout the performance (which might be a deal killer for some – and it is rather annoying). The playing is quite spectacular in general, although the horns sound a bit watery in one or two spots. In several sections, the massed violins seem to be playing with less vibrato and stand out for their clarity. The massed choirs are good and the children’s chorus is properly audible. The organ is prevalent, but not in the same category as the recent Gergiev.

The ending to both Parts I & II are superb – but the ending to Part II is simply one of the best I’ve heard. Inbal’s Frankfurt one was similar to Bertini’s Cologne one in terms of the slow, drawn-out, grand ending. As such, I had high hopes going into this one – but offset by the experience of Bertini’s TMSO one that was a sprint through the finish and had nothing in common with his first version. Here, Inbal takes his time with the entire last section, slowly building the Chorus Mysticus to a deafening pitch. All five of the tam-tam smashes are quite audible, but the last three (the ones doubled by cymbals – and in perfect unison may I add) are simply gigantic. Inbal has the bass drum play a crescendo into the first of the last three smashes (a la Sinopoli). After the final smash, you can plainly hear a tuba blow out its support – something I’ve never heard before. At the final note he has the entire orchestra play a crescendo (a la Shosty 7 perhaps) – including a huge bass drum crescendo and that tuba again! I love having applause at the end of a concert, and this one features a typically boisterous Tokyo crowd expressing their loud approval (I think I would enjoy being part of this crowd).

So to sum it up, I can enthusiastically recommend this recording. The only knock is the solo singing – including Inbal’s distracting noises throughout.

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Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 8 in E flat major "Symphony of a Thousand"