Notes and Editorial Reviews
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This could well be the most ambitious recording of any Mahler symphony - ever!
• A once-in-a-generation classical event and an unforgettable night for the city of Caracas.
• This truly unique account of Mahlers most extraordinary symphony is part of Gustavo Dudamels planned Mahler cycle, this time featuring BOTH orchestras with which he is most closely associated - the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela - as well as immense vocal forces
including a massed choir of young Venezuelan voices and a lineup of international soloists.
• This stupendous, historic collaboration in Caracas cements the friendship and bond between the LA Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, who have both played acclaimed Mahler concerts with Maestro Dudamel in the US and in Venezuela.
• The performance was seen in hundreds of theaters in the United States and Canada, as well as those in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. In Venezuela, it aired on the state television channel, Tves, to mass audiences.
• This special Blu-Ray will be released to coincide with the Opening Concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra season in September 2012.
• Extra Material: 17 minutes documentary on the Blu-Ray which gives a unique insight into this world-beating Mahler recording.
R E V I E W:
“A once-in-a-generation event and one of the most ambitious live recordings ever made”: So trumpets the blurb on the case of this release, and for once, such apparent hyperbole is warranted. Dudamel says in his bonus interview that he wanted this occasion to be “as big as can be”; and certainly there can be no complaints about its sheer scale. Two orchestras share the honors, surpassing Mahler’s extreme scoring demands (besides the vast string section and a few extra reinforcements onstage, the offstage brass contingent, dramatically placed in the left rear, is more than doubled). They’re joined by well over 1,000 mostly youthful choristers (every one of whom—along with the soloists and instrumentalists—is individually honored in the credits). Surely, this is the Real Thing. Add to this the political dimension—an act of music-making that, like the performances by Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, bridges sharp political divides. Then add the almost palpable joy in music-making evident in both the performance (watching the children’s chorus is almost worth the price of admission) and the unusually engaging bonus feature: clearly, an occasion well worth memorializing on Blu-ray.
But, you might reasonably ask, how about the performance simply “as a performance”? I’m not sure that it’s possible to divorce the interpretation from its context—but my guess is that if you simply listened to this account, without the background, without the video, you’d rate it as very good, but not quite on the level of the greatest recordings, from Stokowski through Horenstein, Bernstein/London and Solti on to Tilson Thomas. This was the climax of Dudamel’s massive Mahler project, which involved a heavy travel and concert schedule and the challenge (at least for the Los Angeles musicians) of working in a new, and apparently difficult, acoustical environment. Under the circumstances, the event was liable to be dominated by either exhaustion or adrenaline. We can be thankful that it was the latter—but it’s not without some small costs.
Thus, you’re most likely to remember this Eighth for its energy: for the shock of “Accende” at rehearsal 38 in the first movement, for the tremendous snap of the two choral shouts of “Hostem” a few pages later (after rehearsal 42), for the inevitability with which the players march into the recapitulation, for the jauntiness of the orchestra around rehearsal 56 in the second movement, and for the overwhelming build of the final chorus. And although the spatial differentiation between the two adult choirs is not ideally conveyed, Dudamel still manages to boost the energy of the passages where they call back and forth to one another, just as he brings out the spirited interplay of the orchestral soloists.
I don’t want to suggest that this reading is simply a high-tension operation: There’s plenty of quieter beauty here, for instance in the wonderfully colored opening to the second movement (Dudamel is especially good at balancing the passacaglia-like aspect of the passage to create a sense of vague expectation) or in the gloriously transparent music featuring harps and keyboards toward the end of the second movement, especially when they accompany the Mater Gloriosa, luminously sung from on high by Kiera Duffy. Orchestral playing is excellent from first to last, surprising when you consider that two entirely different groups have been merged—truly merged, with some first desks taken by the LA crowd, others by their Venezuelan counterpoints. (For just one example of orchestral skill, listen to the unanimity of the three clarinets before rehearsal 14 in the second movement.) Even so, I think it’s fair to say that, in the interests of the larger picture, smaller details sometimes get scanted, especially in the second movement which, until the ending, relies less heavily on sheer chutzpah. The acoustics may be partly at fault here. As I’ve said, this hall has a reputation of being difficult; in any case, while the engineers have provided plenty of impact, the sound lacks the vivid timbral clarity (and the bass definition) we get on Tilson Thomas’s SACDs, or even on Solti’s still spectacularly detailed stereo disc. (There are also some odd clunks, too, as if one of the cameras needed new shock absorbers.)
But some of the lack of specificity stems from the performers. Part of the problem may be that Dudamel is still new to this work: The LA concerts that preceded the Caracas event (also, apparently, in a terrible acoustical environment) were reported to be his first times conducting the Eighth. Part of the problem may be that, except for the always absorbing Anna Larsson, Dudamel’s soloists—while eager, involved, and alert to the dramatic import of Mahler’s gestures—do not for the most part offer the same kind of interpretive shading as do the superstars that Solti managed to gather up, or even the lesser luminaries on the Tilson Thomas recording. Add to all of this the conducting logistics: With choral forces 25 rows or so deep, problems of coordination are magnified in a way that certainly discourages subtle rubato and other kinds of shading. Still, I don’t want to emphasize the weaknesses: This may not be the place to go when you want to relish the orchestral details of the quieter moments of the second movement, but when you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in the sheer grandeur and humanity of the Eighth, this tremendous and life-affirming reading will win your heart. All in all, a cause for celebration.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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