Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8
Jonathan Nott, cond; Michaela Kaune (sop); Marisol Montalvo (sop); Manuela Uhl (sop); Janina Baechle (mez); Lioba Braun (mez); Stefan Vinke (ten); Michael Nagy (bar); Albert Dohmen (bs-bar); Czech P Ch; Windsbacher Boys Ch; Bamberg SO & Ch
TUDOR 7192 (SACD: 78:37)
Jonathan Nott has received favorable reviews for previous installments in his Mahler cycle with the Bamberger Symphoniker. In a competitive market, he, his orchestra, and the Tudor label have been able to maintain high
standards of interpretation, performance, and reproduction that have ensured, if not outright superiority, then at least a competitive standing among the pantheon of greats. This Eighth Symphony is, I think, the final release in the series, and in terms of quality and prospects it very much follows the trend. This is an energetic and focused Mahler Eight, sporting strong soloists and a committed orchestra. Nott has the full measure of the work, and while he adds his own distinctive touches, he never lets his ego get in the way of the music. Sound quality is good, although not the very acme of super audio fidelity. Interpretively, it’s not quite in the same league as Bernstein or Tennstedt, but it is a reading that’s worthy to be compared with theirs, no small achievement in itself.
Squeezing the whole of the Eighth Symphony onto a single disc is another impressive achievement, although not a wholly unique one. Nott’s 78:37 puts him among the faster interpreters, and most sections feel just a touch on the brisk side to my ear, accustomed as it is to the Bernstein and Tennstedt, both of whom take seven or eight minutes longer. Nott’s only significant failing is in the quieter passages of the First Part, where he lets the tension drop, or rather the grandeur. The mighty, architectural feel of this music should come through as much in the suppressed or sublimated power of these quiet sections rather than in the more explicit force of the tuttis. But Nott instead chooses to break up the louder music with interludes. He attempts to keep the flow here by maintaining a brisk pace, but a bit more breadth, and more sustain from both the singers and the players, would make this opening chorus cohere better. On the other hand, he takes a similar approach to the opening of the Second Part, and here it works much better. The
orchestral introduction is kept ticking over, without any significant breaks between phrases or rubato indulgences, and the subtle gradation of dynamic as the movement gradually finds its pace is presented more clearly as a result. Here, and elsewhere, Nott seems to be emphasizing the work’s symphonic credentials by always emphasizing progression and structure.
He’s not pedantic about it, though. The longer passages of the Second Part succeed largely because of Nott’s accommodation of his vocal soloists. All sing very well, and are given the space they need to put over distinctive and highly soloistic performances. Dynamics within the ensemble is always weighed in their favor, and whatever symphonic ambitions Nott has to steer the music towards its endpoint, he is also willing to balance his structural aims against the more operatic motivations of his singers.
The Bamberger Symphoniker is in fine form, as are the various choirs, although the singers occasionally show a little strain after a few minutes of
in the First Part. The Windsbacher Knabenchor doesn’t sound as “Knaben” as it might, and sometimes fails to project across the tuttis in the First Part. But in the more subdued sections later on, the young singers come into their own, providing all the angelic aura the music could wish for. The sound recording favors atmosphere over detail, although one or two salient features are laudably highlighted. The celesta in the passages towards the end is brought out well, and the percussion is a very clear presence throughout. But the SACD sound, in the stereo mix at least, does not exploit either the detail or the enhanced sense of presence that the technology allows: It sounds like a good Red Book CD, but no better.
A highly respectable Mahler Eight, then, one that demonstrates how the piece can work as a symphonic structure without any concessions having to be made for its hybrid quasi-oratorio form. Some drama is lacking from the First Part, and some atmosphere from the Second. Not the number one choice, but it probably deserves a position in the top five.
FANFARE: Gavin Dixon
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand" by Gustav Mahler
Stefan Vinke (Tenor),
Manuela Uhl (Soprano),
Marisol Montalvo (Soprano),
Michaela Kaune (Soprano),
Janina Baechle (Mezzo Soprano),
Lioba Braun (Alto),
Michael Nagy (Baritone),
Albert Dohmen (Baritone)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra,
Bamberg Symphony Chorus
Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Konzerthalle Bamberg, Joseph-Keilberth-S
Length: 1 Minutes 24 Secs.
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