Recordings of Gustav Mahler's mystical Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, "Symphony of a Thousand," are surprisingly numerous, despite the obvious physical difficulties and prohibitive costs of mounting such immense productions. There are several terrific choices on the market, among them the critically praised recordings by Leonard Bernstein, Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Michael Gielen, and Riccardo Chailly, to name just a few conductors whose dramatically different but impressive interpretations feel convincingly Mahlerian. Neeme Järvi's 1994 performance with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra, eight vocal soloists, and five choirs almost belongs in this group of esteemed recordings, but not quite; its sweep and energy keep it exciting, and the tight pacing holds the work together, but it has some serious problems which prevent it from being truly great. On the whole, the solo singing is fine, the orchestral playing competent and sometimes compelling, and the choirs are luscious in their rich, smoothly blended tone. Yet it is possible to fault some of the vocalists in isolated spots for intonation problems, and there are also sudden lurches in tempo, which may be due to problems of coordinating so many large groups in the then newly completed Gothenburg Opera House's space. But this disc's biggest problem is the limited reproduction, which is frustratingly muted in dynamics, flat in dimensions, and seriously lacking in resonance. Levels must be adjusted much higher than usual to get a reasonable idea of the orchestral and choral masses, and the bass is frustratingly suppressed at the climaxes, notwithstanding the combined forces of low brass, timpani, bass drum, and the organ's rumbling pedal stops, which ordinarily should make the floorboards vibrate. Even though this is a live recording, BIS should have provided better sound to capture the performance realistically and with some sense of the ensembles' depth. As it is, though, the audio is disappointing enough to take this recording down a notch or two, and to make it a weak third choice when other options are presented.
Mahler: Symphony No. 8 Review
by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand")|