Top critical review
Lack of majesty, vision, grace, power, coherence, and continuity
23 October 2016
Rattle's pedantry spoils this for me. His focus on individual elements disrupts a coherent interpretation ... and it drags along very slowly. The larger elements get lost in the shuffle, as do most lyrical effusions.The Birmingham forces play well, but the strings don't have the tonal weight and dynamism of the great orchestras. The brass section is the star act here, they sound out very well and handle quiet passages with aplomb. But there is a real lack of musical and spiritual nourishment everywhere else. The brass, and rumbling bass & drum, give you glimpses here and there of what could be, in this great symphony. But it's, overall, an uninspiring journey.
Why then the seeming popularity of this effort? Penguin chose this as their key recording, and it appears in EMIs 150th anniversary box set. But "Third Ear" picks out 17 performances worth listening to, and this isn't one of them. Gramophone and Rough Guide don't pick it, and make several other recommendations. These critics, including me, are more generous about other outings in Mahler by Rattle/CBSO , picking out #7 as one of the best out there.
On the plus side, the soloist provides a beautiful performance of the first song, ""Oh Man! Take heed". The voice expresses depth, poignancy, and beauty in perfect balance with the answering brass. The chorus follows up with a sweet angelic performance of, "Three angels were singing a sweet song". So those who might say, "Two stars! What's more beautiful than that singing?", need not. I agree with them. There's also a lovely, flowing rendition of langsam VI; but it's too late! Rattle needed to get it together earlier, preferably in I.
Tasty crumbs mixed with sawdust do not make for a feast, they are an irritation for a hungry man trying to cobble together a square meal. This performance is far too variable, disjointed, and lacking in pace to garner even an "OK" from me. I didn't like it as an overall experience.