Following his successful 2008 releases of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A minor, "Tragic," and the Symphony No. 7 in E minor, "Song of the Night," as well as a slightly less wonderful Symphony No. 3 in D minor, Valery Gergiev aims even higher with his 2009 recording of the Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, the so-called "Symphony of a Thousand," but regrettably falls short of the pinnacles he achieved in the previous year. Turning out a dramatic and powerful Eighth should be no problem, with such massed performers as the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Choir of Eltham College, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, and eight vocal soloists, but with all these resources at his disposal, Gergiev turns in a rather blasé, muted, unenthusiastic, and unconvincing reading; something to always avoid, but especially so in one of the most ecstatic works ever written. How any conductor can let this visionary symphony lapse into an exercise in polychoral counterpoint is astounding, but someone of Gergiev's ability to get the most compelling results from his musicians certainly should have reached for the heights and depths here. It may be that this work strikes Gergiev as only so much heaven-storming religiosity, rather than as a glorious testament of Mahler's passionate faith, but there is certainly a sense that the conductor doesn't have much of a feel for it, despite his obvious knack in the secular symphonies. For more detailed, spectacular, and uplifting Eighths, listeners should turn to those by Solti, Chailly, or Gielen, where the performances and the sound quality are far better. One really has to turn up the volume to hear this SACD with any clarity, but forget about getting much vibrancy or presence, because the microphone placement seems quite far removed from the performers, and the only moments of truly majestic sound come at the end of each part, in the long fade-outs that sound utterly cosmic; too bad the rest of the audio is just mundane and generally dull in comparison.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand")|