Mahler: Symphony No. 8 - Gergiev
LSO Live LSO0669
Mahler: Symphony No. 8
Choir of Eltham College
Choral Arts Society of Washington
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev (conductor)
Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony is, unusually for a symphony, structured in two-parts. Part I’s exuberant hymn of praise to the creator spirit precedes a reading of the Final Scene from Goethe’s Faust, portraying “Faust’s redemption through wisdom and love”. The use of choirs throughout the work, combined with the colossal forces of eight soloists, off-stage brass, and an expanded orchestra, make this a work of epic proportions.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 30, 2009
Complaints about ‘dry Barbican sound’ will certainly be silenced by this latest issue of Valery Gergiev’s Mahler cycle with the LSO. The venue is St Paul’s Cathedral, London, with its vast cavernous spaces and hard surfaces. The major surprise is how successfully the engineers have coped with this problematic acoustic, particularly as Gergiev does not appear to have made any concessions to it with his urgent, but not over fast, performance, that lasts 77’22” (including long reverberation times). Even subtle details of the orchestration, including Mahler’s striking use of mandolin, harmonium, piano and celesta, are all clearly audible on the recording, whilst in the loud passages the full choral and orchestral forces, including the deep pedal notes of the organ, are reproduced unflinchingly to tremendous effect. Strings, however, are somewhat lacking in body and richness while horns are occasionally too recessed.
The superb massed choirs of the London Symphony Chorus and the Choral Arts Society of Washington hurl out the opening cry of Part 1 ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ impressively and with clear projection of the text. The booklet does not give any details as to which part each soloist is assigned in either Part 1 or Part 2 of the symphony, so one must assume that they are listed in the usual score order. Viktoria Yastrebova’s first entry at ‘Imple superna gratia’ is somewhat tentative but, when the other soloists join her, the strength of the whole team soon becomes apparent. Six of the eight soloists are members of Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre ensemble, the exceptions being the experienced Finish mezzo Lilli Paasikivi and the young Irish soprano Ailish Tynan.
The brief orchestral interlude preceding ‘Infirma nostri corporis’ with its clear tubular bells and vivid rasping trombones, exemplifies the clarity of the sound in both loud and quiet passages, while Gergiev handles the whole of this section with unexpected tenderness and restraint. His majestic build-up to a thrilling ‘Accende lumen sensibus’ shows his iron control of the huge forces as the music is driven forward to the reprise of the opening. The final section of Part 1, ‘Gloria Patri Domino’, is imposing rather than ecstatic, lacking a little of the required fervency.
The discursive nature of Part 2 of the symphony, a setting of the Final Scene from Goethe’s Faust, presents a special challenge for conductors. In the wrong hands it can ramble, so Gergiev’s care to ensure that the ‘poco adagio’ marking does not become adagio is to be welcomed. Though the German of Alexey Markov (Pater Ecstaticus), Evgeny Nikitin (Pater Profundus) and Sergey Semishkur is not idiomatic, all three sing with welcome clarity and firmness. The ladies also make a good impression in the ‘Bei der Liebe’ section. This is particularly true of Lilli Paasikivi’s rich-toned Mulier Samaritana. Ailish Tynan’s fresh-voiced delivery of ‘Una Poenitentium’ is matched by the lusty singing of the boys (and girls) of Eltham College Choir.
In the multi-channel version the voice of Mater Gloriosa floats in from the surround speakers to magical effect, although there are traces of insecure ensemble here, but the sensitive singing, and beautifully projected voice, of Sergey Semishkur makes his Doctor Marianus a special joy. The LSO play the tranquil orchestral passage, leading to the final ‘Chorus Mysticus’ (track 17 from 4’30” - surely one of the most beautiful in all Mahler) with ravishing refinement before the hushed choir entry. The gradual build-up from ‘Alles Vergaengliche’ to the closing pages, with its crashing tam-tams, ‘set apart’ brass (from the surround channels), thunderous organ and full-throated choir, is quite overwhelming and brings Gergiev’s most satisfying performance to a triumphant end.
It is almost inconceivable that any recording could capture entirely the scale and wide dynamics of this massive work with absolute fidelity, but James Mallinson (producer) Jonathan Stokes (engineer) have achieved a magnificent result using the opportunities offered by the 5.1 multi-channel mix.
Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net