on 4 March 2011
It does not seem all that long ago that the LPO released a live recording of Mahler's 2nd symphony by the (sadly) late Klaus Tennstedt. This recording has been praised in many quarters as one of the great Mahler recordings, and rightly so. Many readers of Amazon's pages have fallen under its spell.
The release of the mighty 8th symphony is another example that confirms Klaus Tennstedt's status as one of the few great Mahler conductors. The LPO label are on to another winner! This live performance given a stunning recording in my view supersedes Tennstedt's excellent studio recording of the 8th on EMI. Inevitably with most live recordings there are occasional duff notes and one or two examples of the soloists being taxed by the demands of the score and, dare I say, the tempo of the conductor, however it is the better for it! Listen to the brass section and the realistic contribtion from the organ(at last!!)The mighty closing pages are genuinely awesome and moving (make sure the neighbours are out).
The Soloists and Choirs are on the whole exemplary. The hero of this recording has to be Klaus Tennstedt, here is a conductor who was passionate and believed in this masterpiece. I urge Mahlerians and lovers of great choral music to hear this, it is one of the great Mahler recordings! Gratitude has to be extended to the LPO label for this jewel of a performance and recording. EMI who originally released this on DVD in the 90's may regret having not released it on CD. EMI should consider re-releasing the live recordings of Mahler's 6th and 7th Symphonies Tennstedt conducted during the early 90's. If I could award this recording 10 stars I would. I feel lucky that not one but two superlative recordings of Mahler's symphonies (2 and 8) have been released to mark Mahler's Centenaries.
on 5 March 2011
There must be many people out there who read glowing reviews of Tennstedt's Mahler recordings and then opt for the EMI box set, thinking they have a bargain: I wonder how many are disappointed. The EMI box is competitively priced but the cycle as a whole is uneven and suffers from indifferent sound. No, for me the seeds of Tennstedt's ever-increasing reputation as a first-rate Mahlerian were sown in his extraordinary concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, especially after his return from serious illness in the late-Eighties. His three performances of the Eighth Symphony in January 1991 - the first of which is recorded here - are now the stuff of legend.
The Eighth is undoubtedly the highlight of Tennstedt's studio cycle - a worthy Gramophone Award winner, and a favourite of mine for many years - but I think it is surpassed in just about every way by this new live recording. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a new benchmark.
Of the eight soloists, only Trudeliese Schmidt and Hans Sotin are carried over from the studio set. Initially I was disappointed to lose Richard Versalle's excellent Doctor Marianus but I have quickly adjusted to Kenneth Riegel's unusual style of attack and gone on to find a great deal to admire in his portrayal. He consistently hits and sustains the top notes, whether at full throttle or using just his head voice. He may not have the most beautiful tone but it's a thrill to hear the role really attacked and sung with gusto and confidence. The other big surprise is Jadwiga Rappe who - together with Schmidt - brings some real character and colour to the alto parts; many of their rivals struggle to make an impact, I always think. However, this solo team really scores with the sopranos. The endless lung-power of Varady and Eaglen is worth a gold star all on its own! They really open the taps from about halfway through 'Accende...' and the way they (with Riegel) ride the crest of Tennstedt's enormous tidal wave of sound at the return of 'Veni...' is simply jaw-dropping. Eaglen goes on to give us a sublime and youthful Gretchen in Part II. The cherry on top of this rather wonderful cake is a young Susan Bullock, who gives the best Mater Gloriosa I've ever heard. Her short and perilously exposed solo is delivered with a rare surety. They all combine beautifully to give us the most characterful and competent solo team on record, and they are placed further forward than in the studio set so they sound better balanced with the choirs and orchestra: they are always audible.
One criticism often levelled at the studio set is the size of the chorus. Personally, I never had a problem with it but there should be no equivocations with this new recording as the LPO Choir is joined by the LSO Chorus, and what a sound they make! They must have been drilled to within an inch of their lives, and it shows; clear diction, crisp attack and a combined volume that will shake the tiles from your roof. Above all, they sound like they're enjoying every minute - a vital element that's hard to recreate during studio sessions. The Eton boys - whom Tennstedt famously told to sing like football hooligans! - sound like they've been trained by Fagin and, for me, that means they're bang on the money!
I won't go into detail on the orchestral playing. Suffice it to say that Tennstedt and the LPO was one of the great - and, sadly, all too brief - musical partnerships of the Twentieth Century. Care, attention to detail, passion and sincerity colour every bar of their playing. Of the great man himself, well, his way with Mahler in general and the Eighth in particular has always seemed instinctively right to me. This live performance finds him only a touch more expansive than on the studio recording but his vision and sense of musical architecture are as strong as ever. If you're unfamiliar with his style, you may sometimes wonder where he is going at certain points, but then the next passage will make sense of it all and you'll never want to hear it played any other way. He was a magician in the concert hall and the grandeur and spirituality of this performance are both thrilling and moving in equal measure. Like the studio set, it also comes across as deeply personal.
The recording was transferred from a BBC TV tape, rather than a radio tape, and that seems to have added an extra dimension to the sound. I'm hesitating to use the phrase 'surround sound' because that suggests something very specific. Maybe 'cinematic' describes it better. Whatever, the recording seems to have a limitless capacity to allow Mahler's greatest climaxes to expand to really awesome proportions without any loss of inner detail or any sense of distortion, constriction or artificial manipulation. Indeed, this is the closest realisation yet of how this symphony sounds (and feels!) in a concert hall. This is doubly surprising when you consider that it was recorded in the Royal Festival Hall, although its bass-heavy acoustic response does pay dividends by allowing the organ's floor-shuddering pedal notes to register brilliantly.
For a live performance, I've noticed barely a handful of tiny fluffs. Personally, I couldn't give a monkey's, and if you let this deter your purchase of this electrifying recording then it is only your loss. I know which of my recordings of the Eighth will get the most play from now on.
A live Resurrection last year; a live Eighth this year... How lucky we are!
on 29 May 2011
I don't think I can in words properly express my liking for this recording. From the initial rough growl of the organ to the last grand notes, this recording is a prime example of the grandeur of Mahler. This is classical music at its best, with a well-rehearsed orchestra at the end of Tennstedt's hands and sound to do them justice! I can wholeheartedly recommend this release.
I am a huge admirer of Tennstedt, especially in Mahler, having reviewed enthusiastically and fairly extensively both his EMI complete Mahler symphonies and Great Recordings box sets and found him to be fully worthy of his reputation as one of the greatest, most intense and spiritually profound conductors of the late 20C. I also endorse the chorus of five-star encomiums for his live Resurrection Symphony with the same orchestra in the same venue from 1987. However, if you trawl through the many reviews for this splendid performance you will find a few voices who, like me, actually prefer his studio recording for its superior sound, tauter grip on tempi, virtually flawless ensemble and, above all, better solo singing. It is also true, as a couple of commentators have observed, that despite their attack and energy, the three massed choirs here can sound just a little undernourished compared with rival versions.
Otherwise, the choirs and orchestra are beyond reproach, singing and playing with an abandon incited by Tennstedt who apparently told the boys of the Eton College Choir to bawl like football hooligans - which they must have enjoyed. However, there are several soloists who are most definitely bested by those in other recordings, not least by Hans Sotin's slightly younger and certainly more secure self in his recordings for Tennstedt and Sinopoli; here he sounds embarrassingly hoarse and stretched in "Wie Felsenabgrund". Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte is weak and ordinary, Trudeliese Schmidt again better in the studio recording, alto Jadwiga Rappé tremulous. Worst by far is Kenneth Riegel, by this stage of his career virtually screeching and bereft of what little beauty of tone his harsh tenor ever possessed; Keith Lewis and Richard Versalle are infinitely more impressive.
The three sopranos, too, are a mixed bag: there is a fair amount of approximate tuning from the usually very reliable Julia Varady and some expected squawking and wobbling from two singers in Jane Eaglen and Susan Bullock whose appeal has eluded me over the years. It is only fair to remark, too, that they often ride the orchestra bravely and thrill with some shining top notes.
These vocal flaws compromise my enjoyment too much to shift my allegiance from the recordings mentioned above and the big, brash Solti version which is probably the best sung of all. I have always found this symphony to be musically and structurally the least satisfying of Mahler's symphonies; in order for its deficiencies and longueurs in part 2 to be papered over the soloists' execution has to be less problematic. Having said that, despite some riskily protracted rubato, Tennstedt's is still among the most successful attempts on this massive work and both climaxes of both parts are stunning, with a concentrated serenity which is wholly absorbing. Only Bernstein in 1966 moves me as much here. If only Riegel barked less and the singing in general were more majestic.
PS: Subsequent listening has convinced me of the glory of this performance and reconciled me more to the failings amongst individual soloists; I would give it four and a half stars if I could - it's still thrilling.
on 26 May 2015
Up until now the George Solti version of Mahler's 8th. Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been my benchmark. No longer. This live recorded version with Klaus Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic Orchestra now goes into first place. The sound of this recording is outstanding, heard especially in the breath-taking and quiet Choral Mysticus and the clarity of the symphony's climax, where each instrument, especially the cymbals and drums, are heard as never before in a recording of this symphony. Solti's recording masks the big sounds of the climax - a fact not appreciated until listening to this recording
Another factor in Tennstedt's favour is that he takes the symphony more slowly than Solti - around eight minutes slower. This allows the music to bloom more than Solti, with climaxes opening-out and suitably prolonged.
The clapping at the end of the music comes as a surprise, for the simple reason that the live recording is so good that it belies a live recording. Superb playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the soloists lose nothing by overall comparison with any other recording. Of course, I miss Lucia Popp and Heather Harper from the Solti recording and, perhaps, the power of Rene Kollo. But Tennstedt's soloists and choruses bring their own enchantment and interpretation to the score and not one of them is disappointing.
A version of Mahler's 8th. to treasure.
on 7 June 2013
Tennstedt was a great man and a great Mahlerian, and this recording is achieving legendary status. But it is pretty different from most performances, and I would not want this to be my only 8th. There is great power and passion, but some of it is of the headachy, vibrato-laden, shrieking type, and the ecstatic serenity of other performances seems to me to be lacking. But these are early days, and this is Tennstedt after all...
on 28 March 2011
When Mahler conducted the first two performances of the Eighth symphony in Munich in 1910, he did so using 1029 performers. He thereby set a benchmark of how large he wanted the work to sound -- 'like suns and planets revolving in their orbits', as he put it. I was present at the Royal Festival Hall performances captured on this release, and Tennstedt used no more than 500 musicians. Forceful and sensitive they certainly were but cosmic THEY WERE NOT. For all true Mahler lovers there is only one valid recording of this work: the 1959 Horenstein performance, which is the only one that possesses something of the cosmic dimension of sound necessary to experience the Eighth symphony to the full. If you like your Mahler half-size, then go for the Tennstedt or even smaller and more limited-sounding recordings. But sadly we still await a recording that gives us what Mahler asked for.