Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 8,
“Symphony of a Thousand”
Valery Gergiev, cond; Viktoria Yastrebova (sop); Ailish Tynan (sop); Liudmila Dudinova (sop); Lilli Paasikivi (mez); Zlata Bulycheva (mez); Sergey Semishkur (ten); Alexey Markov (bar); Evgeny Nikitin (bs); Eltham College Ch
(Tim Johnson, dir);
Choral Arts Society
(Norman Scribner, dir);
London SO & Ch (Joseph Cullen, dir)
LSO LIVE 669 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 77:22) Live: London 7/9–10/2008
I surrender. Those who feel that critics with less than state-of-the-art playback equipment shouldn’t be reviewing surround-sound recordings have taken me to task in these pages. My defense has been that such discs are offered in hybrid form precisely so that those unfortunates among us can still enjoy them, and that the musical content is more important than the sound production. With this disc, however, I admit defeat: only those in possession of surround sound can fully appreciate what the LSO Live engineers have produced with this disc.
Recorded last July in St. Paul’s Cathedral, this recording represents the culmination of the Gergiev/LSO Mahler series (Symphonies 4, 5, and 9 await release). The cavernous environs of the venue would seem to be ideal for Mahler’s behemoth, but there are drawbacks. The organ sounds comparatively small until the last chorus, its low tones lost in the mix; the highly reverberant acoustic can be distracting—one only needs to hear the incredibly long decay at the end of each movement to be aware of the obstacles surmounted by the engineers. That said, there is quite a decent amount of instrumental detail, with the sections of the orchestra skillfully clarified, and the offstage instruments distanced but clear; the massed voices, too, are easily differentiated, and the articulation of the text is admirable. Only in the
sections is the sound a disappointment, sacrificing impact for clarity. The soundstage in stereo and two-channel SACD is narrowly focused when compared with Rattle’s recording (EMI), but presumably that’s not the case in surround sound.
In part I, Gergiev’s tendency to rush is happily absent; the listener is transported by the momentum of the music and not by the tempos. In part II, one need make fewer allowances for the sound due to the more episodic nature of the music, and it is here that Gergiev’s experience in opera serves him well: his command of dramatic structure is everywhere in evidence. The youthful voices of the soloists—all but two are Gergiev protégés from the Mariinsky Theatre—are impressive in their compatibility as an ensemble and in their solo contributions. The Ecstaticus of Markov, though more than adequate, isn’t quite as compelling as David Wilson-Johnson for Rattle; the Profundus of Nikitin is light-toned compared to Talvella for Solti, less purely dramatic than Relyea (Rattle). Semishkur is ideal: his Marianus is both lyric and dramatic.
The lovely pastoral episode with harmonium is wistful in its expansive beauty, leading to a lovely introduction for the women’s solos. None of the women are a true alto, but the darker voices of the mezzos add enough contrast to be effective, and their Trio is lovely (an odd dropout occurs just subsequently, at 00:11 of track 15). The boys of Eltham College, both eager and cherubic, are the best on record since Solti’s Vienna Choir Boys. The sound of Mater Gloriosa really does arrive from the highest spheres, even in stereo, a marvelous effect, pointing the way to a truly transcendent contribution from the Chorus Mysticus.
The Eighth is the one symphony of Mahler’s that can’t really make the transition to disc, and even those with the best stereos on earth will never approximate the sound—and feeling—of a live performance. I’ve been lucky enough to hear the Eighth twice in concert (back in the 1970s when it was a relative rarity): it is truly staggering, and irreproducible on record. The earliest stereo recordings, Bernstein/Sony and Solti/Decca, pushed the sound right up front for maximum effect, and it worked well enough then. Solti originally gave me the best reason to listen at home, but Rattle’s is the most compelling of recent versions, especially on “enhanced” DVD-A. Gergiev’s new recording, though, will probably be the first choice for those with the requisite equipment to bring out its undoubted strengths. On one disc at moderate price, it is a bargain easily the equal of Solti’s classic recording.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand" by Gustav Mahler
Evgeny Nikitin (Bass),
Ailish Tynan (Soprano),
Zlata Bulycheva (Mezzo Soprano),
Lilli Paasikivi (Mezzo Soprano),
Alexey Markov (Baritone),
Liudmila Dudinova (Soprano),
Sergey Semishkur (Tenor),
Viktoria Yastrebova (Soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra,
London Symphony Chorus,
Eltham College Choir
Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria
Length: 74 Minutes 32 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Symphony no 8 "Symphony of a Thousand": Part I: I. Veni, creator spiritus
Part II: XII. Alles Vergängliche
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