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Recordings

LSO0669 [SACD]
01 Jan 2013

Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8

Viktoria Yastrebov, soprano, Ailish Tynan, soprano, Liudmila Dudinova, soprano, Lilli Passikivi, mezzo-soprano, Zlata Bulycheva, mezzo soprano, Sergey Semishkur, tenor, Alexey Markov, baritone, Evgeny Kikitin bass, Choir of Elthan College, Choral Arts Society of Washington, London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor.

LSO0669 [SACD]

$18.99  Click to buy

Gergiev’s conception of the first part, the Latin hymn Veni creator spiritus (tracks 1-6) conceived symphonically, is convincing and well-thought. The balances between textures, tempos, and dynamic levels represent the score faithfully in a dynamic reading of this piece. The choruses are notable for their refined sound, and clear diction, as evident from the start. It is a convincing performance that warrants attention among other recordings of the piece issued in the last few years.

As to this performance, the sense of musical narrative emerges readily as the extroverted opening “Veni creator spiritus” section is followed by the contrasting sections, which Gergiev delineates incisively. The architecture of this large-scale work becomes audibly apparent in this performance, with the various and shifting forces required for the “Accende lumen sensibus” section (track 4 on this recording) coming together with exceptional clarity. From that point, the movement drives forward, with the resulting sound evoking the composer’s synaesthesic comment to Willem Mengelberg about worlds and planets in motion. This exciting performance has the momentum that makes it stand out among recent recordings as a powerful and authoritative presentation of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony.

The second part, Mahler’s setting of the concluding section from Goethe’s Faust (tracks 7-18) is equally powerful. In contrast to the broad gestures required for the concluding “Gloria patri” of Veni creator spiritus, Gergiev is effective in presenting the more intimate structure of the opening of the piece, with the Anchorites’ music highly evocative. The orchestral details are nicely shaped, with the textures almost palpable as the music emerges from the almost imperceptible sounds of the first measures to the rich orchestral textures later in the section. This sets up the aria of the Pater Ecstaticus, and the vocal exchanges that follow. Here Gergiev’s deft approach to the orchestral accompaniment is apparent, as it supports the vocal line and also brings forward motifs with a sense of their function in the score. The result has the refinement of a studio recording while also conveying the dynamic qualities of a live performance. The prominent miking of the soloists allows them to be heard clearly in this recording, without overbalancing the result, especially in the richly textured choral sections.

In this regard, Gergiev’s soloists are uniform in their delivery, with well-chosen voices covering all the parts. Among the soloists, Sergey Semishkur is especially appealing in the role of Doctor Marianus, with his ringing sound and good diction bringing out the important part of the text. He handles the higher sections of the solo passage with ease and vibrant tone in this passage and in the penultimate “Blikket auf,” Doctor Marianus’s response to the “Komm” of the Mater Gloriosa. The other soloists are also memorable, as the strong principals complement the chorus in Mahler’s musical setting of this important example of Romantic literature. The dramatic qualities in this performance serve as a reminder of the ways in which Goethe’s Faust was an important part of Mahler’s reading and his intellectual world. This recording preserves Gergiev’s effort for future audiences to appreciate, especially the warmly colored “Chorus Mysticus” with which the work concludes. In the matter passage, Gergiev’s attention to details allows the various sonorities, to be heard distinctly. This is partly due to the well-considered tempos Gergiev used in realizing the performance indications and other markings Mahler used in this score. The full sounds of the conclusion resound vibrantly and triumphantly in this convincing reading of the score.

Based on performances given 8-10 July 2008 in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, this recording benefits from thoughtful sound engineering that offers both the elegant presentation of details and also spacious sound. In addition, the CD includes a concise booklet with the full text of the Eighth Symphony and English translation, along with a full track list. The booklet also includes photos and biographical sketches of the soloists, It is unfortunate, though, that some media players reflect the tracks correctly, but identify the recording with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles, rather than the LSO with Gergiev. Despite these small problems, this recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is a strong addition to the recorded legacy, and those interested in the work will find much to offer in it. It is a strong and impressive part of Gergiev’s recent Mahler cycle.

James L. Zychowicz

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