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Mahler: Symphony no 8, Adagio from Symphony no 10 / Thomas

Mahler / Claycomb / Heever / Wall / Sfc / Thomas
Release Date: 08/25/2009 
Label:  San Francisco Symphony   Catalog #: 60021   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Quinn KelseyLaura ClaycombYvonne NaefKatarina Karnéus [Mezzo Soprano Vocals],   ... 
Conductor:  Michael T. Thomas
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 52 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


MAHLER Symphonies: No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand”; 1 No. 10: Adagio 2 Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Erin Wall (sop); Elza van den Heever (sop); Laura Claycomb (sop); Katarina Karnéus (mez); Yvonne Naef (mez); Anthony Dean Griffey (ten); Read more Quinn Kelsey (bar); James Morris (bbar); Pacific Boychoir; San Francisco Girls’ Ch; San Francisco SO & Ch SFS MEDIA 21 (2 hybrid mulichannel SACDs: 111:58) Live: San Francisco 4/6–8/2006; 2 11/19-23/2008 1

The extremely successful SFS/Mahler Project reaches a pinnacle, if not quite a finale (there is at least one more volume of orchestral songs still to come). Several other conductors who recorded the complete symphonies have saved the Eighth for last, and there are obvious reasons for doing so: how better to cap a cycle of the symphonies than with the grandest (if not the greatest) of them all? The orchestra, over the past eight years, has acquired a proficiency in Mahler’s music second to none, and their recording of the Second, one of the best on disc, is ample proof that they are more than equal to the challenge of a big Mahler piece; yet, I’m sure anyone in the SFS organization, from the conductor on down, would readily agree that the Eighth is unique.

Leading off the program is the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony. From the meandering introduction of the dark, relatively slow Andante, the Adagio swells convincingly, becoming the impassioned plea alluded to in the inscriptions that Mahler scribbled among the staves. There is an appropriately ironic edge in the mincing pizzicato strings and carping winds of the flowing secondary theme that seems to mock the distress of the principal theme. The very organ-like dissonant chorale comes as a sudden shock, especially considering the way Tilson Thomas prepares for the moment with pianissimos that are barely audible. The “scream” is chillingly sustained by the violins (as always in this series seated antiphonally). The coda seems to resolve the tension, ending in a deceptively placid manner. I say “deceptively” because the resolution to the stresses introduced in this movement comes only in the Symphony’s finale. The problem with playing only this movement is that it misrepresents Mahler’s intentions; based on this very effective performance, it’s a shame that MTT didn’t decide to include a full performance of the 10th in his cycle.

My assessment of the Eighth must dwell initially on the sound production: though I maintain that sound is never my primary recommendation for choosing a recording, I feel compelled to draw readers’ attention to the unparalleled job that Andreas Neubronner and his crew have accomplished herein. The soundstage is panoramic in its breadth; the choruses, orchestra, and soloists are so carefully balanced across the acoustic space that no single component overwhelms the others. In the productions that I have admired in the past—Solti, Rattle, Boulez—the excitement of the performance is enhanced by sound that is immediate and tends to favor the voices when all the performers are sounding together. Here, one experiences the music as it sounds in the concert hall—even in stereo. When asked how he would be auditioning the finished recording, Tilson Thomas responded, “I’ll listen to it on a boom-box, something that’s not the state-of-the-art. That’s how it will sound in real life.” (MTT in Gramophone , April 2009). Though my playback equipment isn’t quite that basic, I’ll leave the high-end sound assessment, as always, in the capable hands of Andrew Quint; I auditioned this new set in the standard stereo mix (though I sampled various sections in two-channel SACD).

The opening movement is marked Allegro impetuoso , and Tilson Thomas takes Mahler at his word. The late Michael Steinberg (whose trenchant annotations will be sorely missed) uses the word “urgent” to describe this movement in his notes, and that is the feeling here. Though the organ in the opening doesn’t rattle the floorboards as it does (quite unrealistically) in the Boulez recording, the awe-inspiring sound created by the hundreds of performers who summon the Deity is more accurate and just as commanding (in two-channel SACD, the organ has more low-end resonance here and at the end). The wisdom of waiting until the culmination of the cycle to record this piece is borne out by the absolute clarity of the orchestra, and solo instruments never need to compete with the voices to be heard. The choral singing is unusually clear as well, and the children sound as impressive as their adult counterparts do.

The dynamics of the opening of part II are arresting; violin tremolos, muted in both senses of the word, are nearly inaudible in their delicacy. The whole introductory section is imbued with anticipation, the chorus-and-echo halting, almost tentative, yet always musical, even at this pace. The Pater ecstaticus of Quinn Kelsey is impulsive, entering almost too soon, sung very freely. Unfortunately, this brings me to the one disappointment among the soloists, and that is the Pater profundus of the great James Morris. His voice is now burdened by an excessive wobble (I can’t simply call it vibrato), and the Wotan and Dutchman of 20 years ago is nowhere in evidence except in Morris’s unerring dramatic sense, which goes some way in saving this characterization. The Doctor Marianus of Anthony Dean Griffey is ardent and accurate.

The episode with harmonium and harps, joined by the celesta and piano (which is audible for a change) that enter with the chorus, is sublime. The trio of Magna peccatrix, the Samaritan, and Mary of Egypt (Erin Wall, Katarina Karnéus, and Yvonne Naef, respectively) is well matched but differentiated enough vocally to keep their recitatives clear; the “penitent one” of Elza van den Heever is heroic and dramatically effective, though the text in her higher range is not always completely comprehensible. The Mater gloriosa of Laura Claycomb originates from a balcony above the stage, with just enough spotlighting to render it clearly audible.

The final section, beginning with the “Blicket auf” of Marianus, is quite simply the most moving performance on disc. One last telling detail: the sopranos and altos of chorus II sing the first syllable of the final “Alles Vergängliche” two measures ahead of the remaining voices, something either obscured or omitted from other recordings; it is perfectly audible here.

For those who download the Symphony, a bonus video program titled “A Universe of Sound” has been added to the audio tracks. For access to this program about the recording of the symphony, see www.youtube.com/user/sfsymphony. MTT, producer Neubronner, and soprano Erin Wall share insights into the experience of performing (and recording) the Mahler Eighth. Wall is quite candid about the effect the music had on her, surrendering to emotion as she describes the exquisite interlude leading to the finale of the Chorus Mysticus.

This recording brings to a conclusion the SFS Mahler symphony cycle, if not the Mahler Project, and it seems an opportune moment to cast a retrospective glance over the series as a whole. As I listened again to all of the symphonies in sequence, I discovered a contradiction: if we endorse Mahler’s dictum that “a symphony should be like the world . . . encompassing everything,” it seems logical that a Mahler symphony cycle must be an oxymoron. It is a supreme irony to me that, the more truly distinctive a series of the symphonies is—and this is one of the most distinctive—the more extreme one’s reaction to the interpretations can be (this is undoubtedly a result of the very personal connection that many of us feel with this music). A totally satisfactory cycle conducted by one person, therefore, has a very high level of improbability. What raises this cycle above many of the others, past and in progress, is the unflagging commitment of the orchestra to the vision of Michael Tilson Thomas, who has forged a bond with a composer with whom he shares a sense of human fallibility and aspiration, producing interpretations that celebrate not only our human foibles but also our potential for the truly inspirational. This unique vision is complemented by the consistency of a cycle that was recorded in one venue by one set of technicians, guaranteeing that the recordings would be of the same uniformly high standard. For me, the recordings of Nos. 2, 6, 7, and 9 are especially fine. And now you can add No. 8 to that list.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand" by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Quinn Kelsey (), Laura Claycomb (), Yvonne Naef (),
Katarina Karnéus [Mezzo Soprano Vocals] (), Anthony Dean Griffey (), Erin [Soprano Vocal] Wall (),
Elza van den Heever (), James [Bass Vocal] Morris ()
Conductor:  Michael T. Thomas
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Live  Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA 
Length: 7 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (incomplete) by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Michael T. Thomas
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/10/2006 
Venue:  Live  Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA 
Length: 27 Minutes 56 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

Symphony no 8 "Symphony of a Thousand": Part I: I. Veni, Creator Spiritus
Symphony no 8 "Symphony of a Thousand": Part II: XII. Alles Vergängliche

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
  SA Triumph From MTT and the SFSO June 4, 2014 By Tony Engleton See All My Reviews "06-04-2014. This is a review only of the Adagio from the SYM. #10, as I will attempt to cover the 8th at a future date. As part of the SFSO's "Mahler Project," it was recorded on the Orchestra 's house label and feature wonderful sound, really allowing the beauty of this fine orchestra to emerge clearly, crisply and succinctly It also was recorded in Super Audio and the results are stunning, to say the least. MTT is a conductor I have long felt was marvelously ordinary and rather unimaginative. Living in the bay are for the 1990's, we often attend the concerts, but waited for each Spring when Herbert Blomstdedt made his annual visits, bring along Brahms, Bruckner, Beethoven and often Mozart. Thomas seems stuck on three of the more mundane composers around, Copland, Gershwin and Stravinsky. I'll give you Stravinsky and maybe Copland ugh their music is too much technique and too little substance, but Gershwin??!! YUK!!! Such a waste of such a fine instrument in the SFSO, but in this Mahler cycle, of which so far, I own numbers 1,2,6 and now #8, I must say I am both pleased and surprised at the quality of the product?Let is take.a closer look, shall we? The Adagio opens with rich creamy strings and continues in that vein for over 27. Minutes,, bathing us in glorious sound and epic dynamics. MTT does not fool around much with the music, as he has been prone to in the past, perhaps he is maturing. Let us hope that is so, for Mahler's music needs no embellishment, it is magnificent as is. Playing it straight and neutral is all that is needed, and past attempts have yielded chaos and mush for a reading. This entire movement is full bodied and beautifully performed and recorded, and the richness of the SFSO comes trough in every phrases and nuance. The sheer radiance and glow of this gorgeous material get full breathe from Thomas, as he cuts off nothing, not even for a second, but allows the music to truly sing it's heart out, as the composer intended. The word I would use here is "velvety"to describe what Is on this CD, but don't take my word for it, get your copy today and prove it to fey ourself, and I think you'll agree, this is a rapturous Adagio, perhaps the most opulent available in the catalog.. And,, as always, best wishes and happy listening, and a ax hearty God bless you, all, Tony. We ll, I guess I can add a second part after submitting this first half of my review after all,, so here is my take on the SYM. #8 in E Flat Major, recorded in late November of 2008, about 2 1/2 years after the recording of the first half of this twin CD package,, the Adagio from the #10 Symphony, reviewed above. This is, of course, a very diferent animal, this big, boisterous, explosive and thrilling 80:39, which was shorter than I had anticipated it would be. MTT takes a minimalist approach to the work, cuing in players, altering tempi when required and generally, refraining from the endless tinkering he had become noted for in the past. All this zis good, very good, because it allows the splendid SFSO and the music of Mahler to reach sour sears sun impeded by unnecessary and unwarranted additions and subtract ions in the material itself. What we hear is the composer, and NO ONE else, which zis how it should be. People like Bernstein, and his famous pupil, MTT, repeatedly did this, and were pressed by few questions and generally given a pass on the issue. Perhaps with advancing age, Maestro Thomas has mellowed somewhat and feels like leavings the music alone and just playing it as is. Great idea, as the beauty of the 8th is in the Score, not the conductor's imaginations. If it were, you'd open up a whole cans of beans and things would likely get out of hand quickly. The tempi chosen all work nicely with the plethora of musical ideas, thoughts and phrase and delivered about as perfectly as the SFSO has ever. done them. They truly are a magnificent instrument, and front-runner for a 6th American orchestra to be added to the listing of the "big five," a sort of unofficial rating system we use to rank ensembles in the States. In case you are interested, they read, for me, as Chicago, Boston, Cleveland,, New York and Philly, in that order. Some of the competition for the San Franciscans comes from cities such as St. Louis,, Atlanta, and either, or both, Pittsburg and Los Angeles., Dallas or even Cincinnati, and especially after Paavo Jarvi's short stay years ago, and took a good Orchestra and worked it up to being a very good Symphony Orchestra" Report Abuse
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