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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 8 (Claudio Abbado)


Composer: Gustav Mahler

  • (01-08) Symphony No. 8 in E flat major - Part One: Hymnus "Veni creator spiritus"
  • (01-16) Symphony No. 8 in E flat major - Part Two: Final scene from Goethe's "Faust"

Cheryl Studer; Sylvia McNair; Andrea Rost (soprano)
Anne Sofie von Otter; Rosemarie Lang (contralto)
Peter Seiffert (tenor)
Bryn Terfel (baritone)
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass)
Rundfunkchor Berlin; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Tölzer Knabenchor
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Claudio Abbado, conductor

Date: 1994
Label: Deutsche Grammophon



"Claudio Abbado's DG recording (445 843-2) was made "live" with the Berlin Philharmonic but, I suspect, contains some "patching" to cope with performance fluffs and any audience problems. Nevertheless, there's much about the finished result that gives the feel of a concert performance. In many ways Abbado is the opposite of Solti. Part I opens with a welcome broadness and a sense of epic reach without the Allegro momentum being impeded in any way. A real middle course between Solti's dynamic charge and Mitropoulos's stately procession. Another aspect, noticeable even in the first few pages, is how clear and revealing the sound picture is with every strand audible but all in excellent perspective and allowing us to benefit from Abbado's stunning ear for detail. There is an especially nice balance for "Infirma nostri" where the orchestra with solo violin finds a strange, darker tinge to the music that is arresting. And have you ever heard such a low bell as this one ? The BPO percussionist must have hunted high and low (very !) for this one. I also admire the way, right through Part I, Abbado seems ready to explore other more reflective and lyrical aspects. But don't think for one moment Abbado doesn't deliver power and drive. "Accende lumen sensibus" and the closing pages satisfy completely and in the way they don't under Solti. The chorus is just large enough and they are balanced better than in the Sinopoli so they suffice. Here it's the music that stays in your mind rather than the performance and the Berlin Philharmonic can match the Chicago Symphony's power with a more substantial, idiomatic sound. Abbado's choirs are every bit as well-drilled and responsive as Solti's also. At the end of Part I, Abbado broadens slightly, again every strand clear and the extra brass are thrilling. The organ might be more in the background than some at this point but it's a small gripe.

In the orchestral prelude to Part II there's the most withdrawn and "inner" playing at the very start than any I have heard. Later in this section, Abbado gets playing of wonderful depth from his players without for one moment forgetting what is being described in the music is a very unforgiving landscape into which the whispered Anchorites merge perfectly with the excellent balance. Distinguished among the choirs are the boys from whom we hear every word and notice also Abbado's ability to suggest a real playfulness in the passages with bells that lie at the heart of this work The soloists may not be as fine as Solti's, but they are a good and pleasing group all the same. Cheryl Studer is no match for Lucia Popp as Penitent, but who is ? But Bryn Terfel is in fine voice as Pater Ecstaticus and while Peter Seiffert has a slightly lighter voice than Rene Kollo, his Doctor Marianus is still memorable and moving. "Jungfrau, rein in schonsten Sinne", praising the Mater Gloriosa, is exalted with some lovely solo violin work accompanying and the women's choir coming as if from high up. When the Mater Gloriosa actually does fly into view it's interesting how Abbado seems to underplay the strings and harmonium passage itself. It proves that in this recording Abbado knows when to leave well alone: the concept of "less is more" never more appropriate since this passage can sound very saccharine in other hands where here it sounds unpretentious and thoroughly appropriate.

There are few recordings that manage to show so many aspects of this great work yet still deliver a coherent, symphonic experience as Abbado's and for that, and many other aspects, I rate this version very highly. In his recording of the Second Symphony I noted how Abbado keeps sharp focus for the "Auferstehn" hymn at the close. Interestingly for this work, he delivers one of the most exultant endings on record. There are certainly few recordings that allow you to hear everything so well. Though, again, the organ is a poor relation at the end and this must have been a specific decision and not one that will meet with universal approval. Apart from that, I think this recording is the modern one that comes closest to Horenstein's conception and must be counted a leading contender, particularly with such superb sound and playing. Integrity matched to genuine fantasy is what you take away from this. A fascinating and illuminating balance that I find very impressive."

-- Tony DugganMusicWeb International

More reviews:


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


Claudio Abbado (26 June 1933 – 20 January 2014) was an Italian conductor. One of the most celebrated and respected conductors of the 20th century, he served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. Abbado performed a wide range of Romantic works and recorded extensively for a variety of labels.


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  2. Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful classical music with us, in lossless. Flacs are only ~ double the size of a 320 mb Mp3, and well worth the overhead.

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