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  82876.62834 (2 discs)
  Mahler: Symphony No. 8 - Sir Colin Davis
  Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Alessandra Marc
Sharon Sweet
Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz
Vesselina Kasarova
Ning Liang
Ben Heppner
Sergei Leiferkus
Rene Pape
Symphonie Orchester Bayerischen Rundfunks
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 1

Review by peteyspambucket March 22, 2005 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
When I bought this recording when it first came out on RBCD, I thought it was horrible. Then I bought it again when it first came out on SACD thinking that perhaps the sound on SACD would improve my impression. It has taken me a while to get into this interpretation, but I enjoy more than half of it. The main draws of this version vocally are the glorious voices of Sharon Sweet, Ben Heppner, and Rene Pape. However, this is a tale of what sounds like two different recordings, since Part I and Part II have different sound properties.

I generally don't get a really good feeling from Sir Davis' work in Mahler. This was painfully made evident to me in his Das Lied on Phillips, which was SO BAD you have to hear it just to believe it. His tendencies for uninflected phrasing and faster tempi makes for blandness. However, he does more idiomatic work here, perhaps because he's working with a German orchestra here. If you want to hear the chorus and soli very clearly and crisply, this recording will satisfy you as it captures the voices VERY well. Every nuance and vocal texture is captured, in many cases at the expense of the orchestral transparency. The orchestra is very recessed, so orchestral detail and bloom or a lush string sound are absent in this recording. I'm disappointed that the surround wasn't used to better effect here and there are very few instances of LFE. The rear channels might as well have been silent, adding little, not even in moments for the Celestial Voice or the trumpet fanfares that end each Part. For pure enjoyment, this recording brings only immense pleasure in softer passages, as they are gorgeously played and captured in most of Part II. In the louder, more richly orchestrated passes, the sound is overloaded (especially in Part I, which is unlistenable in many loud passages), and you have to strain to hear the musical line. The painful shrillness in the soprani can be very difficult to listen past. Part II is much more cleanly recorded and performed. It's possible that Part II had more rehearsal time and therefore more time for the engineers to tweak the sound.

Musically, the highlights of this recording are all contained in Part II. The Doktor Marianus sequences are gorgeously sung here and in faster tempi than Heppner did them for Chailly. There are two parts in the final chorale ("Alles Vergangliche") that got me to pull out my score. One is an odd decision at the final statement of the chorale theme, to give the orchestra a "grand pause" while the chorus soprani continue their note. It COULD be interpreted that way, but I've never heard it like that. Also, only 5 or so bars later, he makes another "grand pause", which is somewhat less jarring, and works with the drama of the moment. BUT it's not called for in the score.

Having heard this piece over 10 times in live concert halls in preparation and performance around the world (Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Boston), I know that it can sound really diffuse and unfocused when played live. Perhaps this is really how it sounded in the Gasteig, which is an outdoor venue. For the forces gathered on this recording, I think it's a decent document of their work.

A mixed bag, but I only begrudgingly recommend it. Having heard a broadcast with the SFO/MTT forces from a live performance a couple years back, I do not think we're going to have a clear winner in the Mahler 8th field on SACD. The Chailly version isn't on SACD, but I heard the DVD-A of that one, and the sound was so bad that I got rid of it. Performance-wise, I do like the Chailly for many reasons, including a very listenable Part I, and I still have the RBCD version. My other favorite versions of the 8th are 3 versions from Bernstein (the DG/Laserdisc and the DG/RBCD -- different casts, and the CBS version with Gwyneth Jones) the 2nd Gielen (Hansler) which is an amazing performance and recording, and the Maazel (Sony RBCD) version which is beautifully played and sung. For SACD, I'd probably choose this Davis version over the MTT from an interpretive standpoint.

For the record, as for the Davis SACD, if the sound in Part I were better, I'd give this a 4.5. The score for performance would get a 4.5 if it were just Part II, but Part I (which I find too fast and too noisy and not charming enough) takes the overall performance score down a bit.

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Works: 1  

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