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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Eighth Symphony (1907)
Teil – Hymnus: Veni, creator spiritus:

Veni, creator spiritus [1:26]
Imple superna gratia (A Tempo – Nicht schleppen) [3:35]
Infirma nostri corporis (Tempo I – Erwas gehalten) [2:35]
Tempo I - Allegro [1:10]
Infirma nostri corporis [3:11]
Accende lumen sensibus [5:53]
Qui paraclitus diceris [3:25]
Wieder Frisch – Gloria Patri [2:53]
Teil – Schlusszene aus Goethus "Faust":

Poco adagio – Erwas bewegter – Piu musso [11:17]
Wieder langsam: Waldung, sie schwankt heran [5:50]
Ewiger Wonnebrand - Moderato [2:00]
Wie Felsenabgrund [4:68]
Allegro appassionato – Maestoso - Tempo

Gerettetbist das edle Glied [2:50]
Allegro deciso – Molto leggiero – A tempo – Allmahlich landsamer

Schon etwas langsamer under immer noch maessiger [2:08]
Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest

Ich spur’ soeben [6:07]
Im Anfang noch etwas gehalten – Allegro deciso – Sehr lansam – Poco piu mosso

Adagissimo (Ausserst langsam): Die, der Umberuhrbaren [4:30]
Du schwebst zu Hobern der ewigen Reiche

Bie der Liebe [5:04]
Fliessend – Nicht schleppen
Be idem Bronn
Be idem hoch gewehten Orte
Sehr fliessend, beinahe fluchtig

Sich etwas massigend - Neige, neige, du Ohnegleiche [4:42]
Er uberwachst uns schon
Ummerklisch frischer – Etwas gehaltener – Allegro
Vom edlen Geisterchor umgeben – Wieder Tempo

Komm! Hebe dich zu hohern Spharen! – Sie langsam [1:20]
Blicket auf! [5:32]
Hymaertig – Meno mosso – Adagio – Fliessend – Ruhig

Langsam – Sehr langsam beginnend: Alles Vergangliche ist nur ein Gleichnis [7:46]
Sylvia Greenberg, soprano; Lynne Dawson, soprano; Sally Matthews, soprano; Sophie Koch, alto; Elena Manistina, alto; Robert Gambill, tenor; Detlef Roth, baritone; Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass.
Rundfunkchor Berlin (Simon Halsey, director); MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig (Howard Arman, director); Windsbacher Knabenchor (Karl-Friedrich Beringer, director), Sigurd Brauns, organ.
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano
Recorded in Berlin, April-May 2004
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901858.59 [24.12 and 63.59]
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I found this Harmonia Mundi version of Mahler’s glorious Eighth Symphony with Kent Nagano and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin impressive, yet at the same time a bit of a mixed bag.

Although it is immediately clear that the singing and playing are of the highest standards, I did not, on the whole, feel that Part I was spacious enough – it is somehow too crowded, and lacks definition as one monumental, heavy, monophonic sound where the individual lines are not allow to sing out enough. That said, it does have some truly glorious moments. Part II is a complete contrast, as Nagano takes it at an extraordinarily slow pace – so it is far less frenetic and cramped and more leisurely and expansive than Part I. Although this rather changes the nature of the symphony, it seems to me a valid enough interpretation and although many may find Part II too slow for their liking, I rather enjoyed hearing the wonderful lines unfolding in so relaxed a fashion.

The opening Veni creator spiritus is fairly exhilarating, but Nagano is in danger of rushing too much. One of the first things that struck me was that the choir sound a little too distanced – the instruments, and especially the brass and organ, given their remarkably harsh and screeching sound in this performance, tend to rather drown out the choir.

Nagano then abruptly slows down on reaching Imple superna gratia, as if attempting to highlight the tempi, taking it slower than a number of other versions. Infirma nostril corporis is suitably frantic and rushing, and its return after the brief instrumental interlude is full of intensity - dark, and well paced. The Gloria Patri Domino is fantastic, with wave upon climactic wave, Nagano really punching it out.

Part II opens - and continues - at an extremely sedate, slow and steady pace – 11 minutes for the instrumental introduction to Haitink’s 8 (on Philips). Nagano also takes the ensuing Waldung, sie schwankt heran almost twice as slow as Haitink, too, and has half the choir whispering rather than singing the words "Lowen, sie schleichen stumm, Freundlich um uns herum", which is odd, but fairly efficacious. The baritone Detlef Roth sings the role of Pater Ecstaticus, and is very dramatic and terribly operatic in Ewiger Wonnebrand. In fact, both Roth and (even more so), the "Doctor Marianus" - tenor Robert Gambill - seemed to rather think this was a Wagner opera. I was not enamoured of Gambill’s voice in this recording, who is a little too enthusiastic with his vibrato for my liking, and includes an awfully wailing scoop on word "Gebistest" in Ich spur’ soeben. The Pater Profundus, however, Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass) is excellent, with a lovely deep, rich and powerful voice. Bei der Liebe features both soprano Sylvia Greenberg as the Magna Peccatrix and Elena Manistana (alto) as the Mulier Samaritana – a good contrast between Greenberg’s very sweet tone, and Manistana’s gorgeously rich, mature and dark voice. I was slightly disappointed with Lynne Dawson as Una Poenitentium in Neige, neige, du Ohnegleiche – although she comes across as bright and powerful, she is also a little harsh and strident. Sally Matthews is excellent as the Mater gloriosa in Komm! Hebe dich zu hohern Spharen – although one can hardly hear her at the start, the distancing effect works well as it makes her very ethereal. The final Alles Vergangliche ist nur ein Gleichnis is fantastic, with a tremendous sound from the basses in the choir. Nagano really pulls all the stops out here, so that one really does feel that there are forces of a thousand in the room!

Although the fact that one has to change discs half way through the symphony is a source of irritation, this recording has been beautifully produced, with fascinating notes covering detailed information about the background of the symphony, its texts, form, influences, and so on. The sleeve notes also contain glossy photographs of Mahler and other relevant pictures as well as a complete instrumentarium.

The performance itself attempts to be monumental, and, to some extent, achieves this. Although I felt that the first part lacked clarity and definition in places, it was still spectacularly unrelenting, and the extremely slow second part unfurled beautifully. This is possibly not the best Mahler Eight I’ve heard, but it’s certainly one of the showiest – everything about it is rather exaggerated, culminating in a flashy and dramatic, but impressive, performance.

Em Marshall



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