Live Recordings of Mahler's Eighth
G. Mahler, Symphony No. 8, Rattle / Birmingham SO
To have thought Mr. Seckerson's review "a tad lopsided" was, as it turned out, a mild understatement. To be sure, the Rattle recording is very fine - and I'd compare it to the famous Solti recording. (That, for most, would be some of the highest praise available. Not so with me, as I don't particularly think that the "epic" Solti recording is "all that," either.) The contributions of vocalists Brewer, Isokoski, Banse, Remmert, (Jane) Henschel, Villars, Wilson-Johnson, and Relyea are certainly more than adequate, but not spine-tinglingly exceptional. The same can be said about Nagano's Greenberg, Dawson, Matthews, Koch, Manistina, Gambill, Rother, and Rootering - the latter a better Pater Profundis than Mr. Releya. But I find Nagano's recording not only not worse (forgive me for the triple negatives) but indeed better than Rattle's. Everyone knows that Gramophone has a pro-British and pro-Rattle bias... but, difference in taste acknowledging, this is silly. Did Nagano shoot the editor's dog?
G. Mahler, Symphony No. 8, Nagano / Orchestra d.Dt.Opera, Berlin
No other performance captures more of the music's mystery and sensuality, revels in the rich details of its orchestration to such a welcome degree, or offers such a clear and characterful distinction between the work's two parts. [...T]he atmosphere is palpable[...]That is perhaps one step further than I would go (I still think that the Ozawa recording has the edge on mystery and unearthly shimmer - especially in the Chorus mysticus), but it's very close to how I feel. Nagano does offer that shimmer, that deeper, more mysterious feel, a sound from other spheres - whereas Rattle offers sound from Birmingham Symphony Hall. The prominent organ in Nagano - never overwhelming but far more present than in many other recordings - is a much appreciated touch, too. At 88 minutes (the time it takes him for the second movement is well spent!) it comes on two CDs and is - much to its detriment, I think - not priced at a single disc's cost but at over $30. A major mistake on the part of Harmonia Mundi - given that much of the competition comes at the full price for one disc or less.
G. Mahler, Symphony No. 8, N. Järvi / Gothenburg SO
Speaking of sound: on that plane, the Neeme Järvi recording can compete with any, live or studio. It is clear, brilliant even, yet not too bright, and it lets in plenty of light. At just about 70 minutes it is the fastest performance I know of - and it is proof that speed has little to do with whether a performance is great or not. I don't hesitate including Järvi's 8th among the great performances on record. The singing is very capable, again, and the orchestral contribution outstanding. Crisp it might be, but it transmits a sense of greater meaning, of a truly special occasion. Actually, it was performed for a special occasion, namely in honor of the victims of the M/S Estonia tragedy. Perhaps that explains the flawless playing of the orchestra - more than astounding for a one-off performance.
G. Mahler, Symphony No. 8, Kubelik / Bavarian Radio SO
Among these four, although none are 'must-haves', Järvi comes out the unexpected 'victor' - but the more I listen to Nagano, the more I cherish his recording. Especially with Ozawa still out of print, this might be worth thinking about, despite its price. [Update: The Ozawa recording has been re-issued in Japan - on one disc and at budget price, making the import from Japan an affordable affair. Because I proselytize that version so much, I usually have extra copies at hand. If interested, contact me at jlaurson[at]freenet[dot]net.]