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Mahler: Symphony No. 8 ~ Boulez
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Legendary conductor Pierre Boulez brings his acclaimed Mahler symphonies cycle to a spectacular conclusion with this new recording of the monumental Symphony No. 8. Boulez teams up with Barenboim's Staatskapelle Berlin, the Berlin State Opera and Radio Choruses, as well as a strong cast of soloists including Michelle DeYoung, Johan Botha and Twyla Robinson to deliver his longawaited reading of what is arguably one of Mahler's biggest and most impressive scores, also known as "Symphony of a Thousand" due to the large number of musicians needed to perform the piece. This release crowns a more-than-decade-long project involving all the symphonies and major orchestral works of Gustav Mahler--a project that is both of highest personal value to Maestro Boulez and an important document of Mahler interpretation.
"Boulez's Mahler is revelatory in its leanness...a life-changing experience for anyone who thought they knew their Mahler." -- The Financial Times
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As far as this new version of Mahler 8 is concerned, I should first say that I have no qualifications to be writing a review. I'm neither a musician or a musicologist, and readers will also realise for themselves that I'm not a writer! I can therefore only comment meaningfully on the quality of the recording, and the extent to which it recreates the concert hall experience. It's not that I don't have an opinion on the performance though. There would be few who would not be aware of the reputation that Boulez has for being somewhat 'cool' and analytical with Mahler. Whilst I'm a huge fan of Bernstein's Mahler (what a shame he didn't finish his DG cycle, the eighth being the casualty), I can't say I've ever been dissappointed with Boulez performances I've heard. I especially admire his DG Mahler 6, and play it often. I find this current issue quite involving and enjoyable, and certainly not lacking anything in terms of performance. For my money, the solists and choirs are up with the best, including both Solti and Tennstedt. For me, however, the big plus is the sheer brilliance of the recording. I usually grit my teeth in anticipation of the opening bars, in expectation that 'listening fatigue' will set in within the first few seconds, and the CD is added to the pile, never to be played again. Not so here. The opening organ part and the entry of the choir immediately struck me a warm, fullsome, and very listenable-to. For once the choral sound has body, scale, and presence, without any of the accompanying harshness and thinness of sound that besets so many recordings. For once, the balance between orchestra and chorus seems just right. In contrast to the Solti version, where solists are very 'up-front', here they are placed in a realistic concert hall perspective without ever being lost in the crowd. I suspect that the success of this recording is in large part due to DG's decision to return to the Jesus-Christus Kirch in Berlin, the venue in which (in my opinion) they made much finer recordings than they's ever made in the Philharmonie. So for now, this will be my version of choice, not because the performance is any better than some in my collection, but because it comes closer to the live experience than any of them. Only the Horenstein version, despite being in mono, rivals it for sheer frisson in the closing pages.
So I am glad to have this recording, but it is not my first recommendation. That goes to the above mentioned conductors. I must add that Amazon is offering this two disc set at a single disc price. Well worth the price of admission.
I like this Mahler 8 very much. I like several Mahler 8's very much. I like the clarity, the control, offered here. I like what I consider to be this maestro's ability to allow the music to speak for itself, perhaps the hallmark of a great conductor, which Boulez certainly is. He is to be congratulated for a career of artistic excellence, for a fine Mahler cycle, and for an excellent Mahler 8.
However, after basking in the newness of this version, I find myself, yet again, going back to my old standby, the Solti/Decca 8. I've long since given up trying to figure out which is the best recording of a work so complex as this. All I know is that after every new version comes out, many of which I like very, very much, I always find myself returning to the Solti. And even though Solti is far from being my favorite conductor, it seems that, at least to my taste, he gets everything just about right here.
Add to that the fact that he has a set of vocal soloists almost beyond belief, a dazzling orchestra, and, especially considering when it was recorded, those marvelous children of the dials - the Decca engineers, all working, it seems, as one, and you have what is, at least to me, a just about perfect recorded performance.
I'm grateful for this new Boulez recording and I'm sure I will listen to it often and come to appreciate it all the more as time goes on.
However, I will never part with the Solti. It, and I like to think I, have aged well together.
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For the record, I'm anything but a Boulez basher.Read more
This 8th ranks among the best recordings of this hyper-inflated work.