Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand”
24 Jul 2006

MAHLER: Symphony no. 8

Recorded approximately 35 years ago in September 1971, Bernard Haitink’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony remains a classic account of the composer’s demanding score.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand”

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink, conductor.

Pentatone Classics 5186 166 [CD/SACD]

$18.99  Click to buy

Originally released on then-high quality line of Philips Classics LPs and later reissued on CD, the Pentatone system reprocesses the multi-channel source by using the source without any artificial enhancement. As indicated in the liner notes, this issue in the RQR series preserves the original four-channel recording in its attempt, as the engineer Jean Marie Geijsen states, “to do justice to the original intentions of both artists and technicians.”

As a result, the reissue of this famous recording has an incredibly clear sound and dynamic sound. Moreover, a score like Mahler’s Eighth Symphony can be particularly telling in this regard because of the range of sounds, from the full orchestra, chorus, and soloists, along with organ and additional instruments, to chamber-music-like sonorities that stand in sharp contrast to those tutti sections. The famous LP release of this very work by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Georg Solti on London was noted for its fine sonics at the time, and yet not all audio systems could reproduce the nuances that were part of that recording; yet with the advent of CD technology, clearer sound was more easily reproduced. Certainly this is true of the Philips issue of Haitink’s famous 1971 recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Yet this remastering for SACD technology makes it possible to hear the recording anew with the assurance of well-grounded technology behind the release.

The technology certainly clarifies what is already present in this fine recording. Without changing any musical aspect of Haitink’s solid treatment of the score, the issue on Pentatone Classics is a direct transfer that takes advantage of recent advances in CD technology. The result is a very clear and focused sound that makes the recording sound direct and engaing.

With a conductor like Haitink, whose forte is in bringing out details with focus and balance, this is a fine example of his work. It is possible, for example, to hear the diminuendo of the horn line in the opening section, just before the entrance of the solo voices. Likewise, the counterpoint is audibly present, not just something apparent when the listener takes the score to the recording. When the texture is purely vocal, the recording system allows the sonority a certain presence that may not have been that pleasant to hear when rendered by some LP systems, even with the quadraphonic sound that Philips originally promised.

A telling spot is the section “Infirma nostri corporis” (band three of the twenty-one bands on this recording), where there is a pronounced exchange between the solo violin and the voices, a difficult texture to achieve in the concert hall, depending on its acoustics. The chorus must also balance the brass in this section without either overbalancing – the wise conductor leaves the sections the opportunity to challenge each other later in the work as it draws to a conclusion in the culminating “Gloria sit Patri Domino” (band 7). While critics have sometimes accused Haitink of holding back, it is his strategic adherence to the score that makes a performance like this one memorable for the drama that he allows to emerge from the music itself, rather than superimpose on it a faulty conception that forces climaxes into sonorities that should be solid and full – blocks of sound that Mahler used to build the architecture of this score.

It is reassuring to hear this kind of performance without in the medium of SACD technology. The sounds are focused and intense, such that it is possible to hear the clear articulations of the choruses in the section “Accende lumen sensibus” (band 5). The pure, white sound of the children’s choir is evident in this recording as a timbre as distinct from the other choral sounds. For those who enjoy Haitink’s mastery of this score, this reissue conveys its controlled intensity well.

With the second part, the fine sound helps to establish the tone at outset, with the musical depiction of the anchorites (band 8), a delicate, yet critical element in an effective performance of this work. As much as some audiences find the wash of sound with which Mahler culminates each of the two parts that comprise this Symphony, the full experience of the work also involves the delicate passages that are brilliant in their simplicity. “Gerettet ist das edle Glied,” a passage given to the children’s chorus (band 13) is solidly heard, as the chorus without vibrato evokes the angelic intention of Goethe’s text. When adult female voices enter, the richer tone colors are evident, in a passage that other conductors sometimes fail to emphasize with tempos that make it difficult hear the text enunciated so well.

A similar delicacy occurs in the section “Ich spür’ soeben,” again, where the differences between the vocal timbres are essential to the structure of the work. The male voices, William Cochran, Hermann Prey, and Hans Sotin match each other well, and this emerges well in the latter part of the second section. Like, the women offer some strong performances, with Ileana Contrubas, Heather Harper, and Hanneke van Bork handling soprano parts, and Birgit Finnilä and Marianne Dieleman on the contralto parts. This Pentatone issue treats the voices well, such that the intensity of Haitink’s conducting emerges clearly in the sonorities that he draws from the performers. The full chorus, which carries the conclusion of the movement (“Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, band 21) is fully present without a sense of any masked sound that might result from problems with impedance. Rather, the richness of the sound increases, along with the requisite volume as Haitink concludes the piece majestically.

It is a small quibble, but recordings like this are served better with the full text included in the liner notes. Likewise, some notes about the performers often help, as would a discography that traces the provenances of this recording in its various issues from LP to CD and, now, to this SACD. A product of a time when performances of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony were less common, this venerable recording brings to modern audiences a classic rendering of the score. Among the available performances of the Eighth Symphony, Haitink’s remains one that must be heard, especially on this newly remastered CD.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):