Symphony No. 8 (Rattle, Cbso, London Symphony Chorus)
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List price: £11.99|
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Average customer rating:
4.2 out of 5
Media: Audio CD|
ISBN/ASIN : B0006ZQ9EA
Manufacturer : Emi Classics|
Release data : 07 March, 2005
A selection of product reviews
LET DOWN BY THE SOUND
This disc seems to have elicited fairly extreme responses, judging by the reviews below. And I'm afraid I have to count myself among the disappointed, particularly with respect to the recorded sound. I can't believe it's my set-up that puts me at odds with some of the glowing responses this recording has elicited - the EMI engineers in this series usually produce stunning sounds on my system (e.g. Symphonies 2,3 & 7). Certainly there is an impressively wide dynamic range here from the barely audible tremolo basses in Part 1 to the vast organ-supported sound at the end. But too often, when there's a lot going on, the sound becomes muddy and congested. This becomes lethal to important contrapuntal sections like the big double-fugue in the development section of Part 1. I'm loath to blame Rattle since he's normally so precise with his orchestral balance throughout his Mahler cycle. I get the feeling that the engineers just didn't cope too well with the scope of the piece, recorded in live conditions. Most of the time (but not always) the soloists are right in your face, masking the detail of the orchestra and choruses. Yet a purely orchestral passage like the opening of Part 2 works well enough in sound terms (easier to record?). The offstage brass at the ends of both Parts are just buried away in the orchestra somewhere, indistinguishable from the rest of the brass in acoustic terms - I remember Bernstein in the Albert Hall had them placed to stunning effect in the top gallery at the back of the hall (so he seemed to be conducting the entire space of the Albert Hall at the end: very Lennie!) and his CBS engineers at Walthamstow straight after that show gave a pretty good 2-D stereo impression of the same.
Rattle always maintained that his Mahler cycle wouldn't necessarily be complete. And the Eighth was the problem-child that he couldn't quite get to grips with. Now the cycle is complete and maybe those problems still show through despite, I'm sure, a lot of homework on his part. Certainly he applies all his skill and knowledge of Mahler to good effect here - but not to great effect! The pacing is good throughout, the orchestral balance allows woodwinds, harmonium, mandolin, etc. a chance to be heard, the various elements of Part 2 are held together admirably, the final pages grow impressively from extreme piano to extreme fortissimo with fine, largely well-tuned choral singing. It's a very sound performance. But I want something more than 'sound' in the Symphony of a Thousand. I want thrills, spills, excitement, ravishment and knockout punches. Take the very opening: Rattle's allegro is a good sensible speed. But it lacks the sheer energy of a Bernstein or a Solti or the grandeur of Stokowski. Veni Creator spiritus - Come, spirit of creation. The huge build-up and release as we get to the restatement of that theme at the start of the recapitulation knocks you for six under Bernstein or Horenstein - here it just feels like the beginning of the recapitulation.
Part 2 fares better, particularly the slow introduction (where, as I've said, the engineers don't get in the way). The scherzo-like sections, too, show Rattle's familiar light, rhythmic hand. The soloists, as in all Mahler Eights, are a mixed bunch from the good (Isokoski & Wilson-Johnson, for example) to the somewhat strained and trying Villars - a shame since Doctor Marianus is such an important part towards the end of the Goethe.
No, for a great performance, go historical to Stokowski or Horenstein (the latter in the vastnesses of the Albert Hall, whose tricky acoustics always seem to me to add to this work). If you need modern sound (and the Eighth does undeniably benefit), probably Tennstedt or Chailly. And, for a mixture of both, don't ignore Solti (one of the best in his series) or the irrepressible Bernstein.
Mahler Very Alive
My favorite Mahler 8th recordings seem to be those recorded in concert. Horenstein on BBC Legends and Gielen's recording at the Frankfurt Opera at a give away price on Sony Essential Classics just brim with energy and insight. Now there are many fine studio recordings of this work but live seems to bring out the best in all. You are on the high wire without a net so you had better be prepared. That Rattle is and this splendid performance joins Horenstein and Gielen as among my favorites.
Rattle's association with Mahler is a long one. At age 17 at the Royal College of Music he put together (with no help from the school) on his own a performance of Mahler's 2nd Symphony. Over nearly 20 years he has been recording the symphonies but had always said he was not sure if he would do all of them which of course has had the bean counters at EMI on edge. The recordings up to now have , like most, been a mixed bag. Like several other conductors such as Barbirolli, Rattle has avoided the 8th being quite honest in saying he could not quite figure it out as a whole. He first conducted it in 2002 and in June, 2004 returned to his old stomping grounds in Birmingham for 3 concerts of this work which EMI recorded. It is quite obvious that Rattle has over come any qualms about the work and there is no mixed bag here.
Veni, creator spiritus does not open the work but must lift it up and launch it. The hard part is keeping it aloft for the rest of the movement, something that has defeated many performances. Rattle takes it up and keeps it there through out. Like the Horenstein performance the choirs here are not a wall of sound but have detail and depth. You feel as if you could dive into it for a swim. Quite wonderful is how the children's choir at the end nicely soars out in a most heavenly manner. They are not struggling like most but are an equal part of the whole. One thing that has evolved in Rattle's Mahler is his attention to the woodwinds which are often swamped in many Mahler performances. He has also learned from several old times about the different style of woodwind playing during Mahler's time. The result is that the woodwinds are not only in their proper perspective but also have a slight pungency to the that often gives a different texture to the sound.
The orchestral opening of Part II is not merely treated as an interlude to give the choir a rest but turns into a mini tone poem. The playing is so fine here that after listening to the whole work I went back and listened to it again.
In this movement we really get to hear what a fine group of soloists Rattle has assembled. They work, as they should, as an ensemble and not against each other. By the time we get to the Chorus Mysticus you are already aware that this is a really special performance. The quiet choral build up to the finale is simply magical but Rattle saves the final trump for the orchestral ending. Too often it comes off as a wind down but here it is a soaring conclusion. The trick is that when the choir stops they sould sort send the orchestra aloft. Too often they stop and the orchestra seems to suddenly jump in to catch up. Not so here, the choir sends them off and they take the work to its grand and massive conclusion. The organ, the one often troubled child in this work, is nicely blended in neither overwhelming or being barely heard. All the forces involved are really in top form especially the children's choirs. At 74 minutes the performance is not one that meanders but keeps a fine pace without feeling rushed.Unlike many who go in to tackle this work because they feel they have to Rattle has waited until he felt he really had a grasp on it. He does and the winner is the listener who gets a splendid performance of this work
Sir Simon's tempo in Part II is too fast. In this tempo setting, no singers can sing with proper pronunciation. Mahler's detailed indications (both tempo and dynamics) are so completely ignored that this performance sounds almost non-Mahlerian. In addition, EMI have lost their magic to capture Mahlerian sound as they did in Second Symphony (1987) so impressively: Here we hear depthless, dead sound hardly acceptable.