on 10 August 2016
I wanted to like this interpretation, having recently discovered Tennstedt with his Emi box and greatly appreciated it. I didn't have the Wunderhorn, so that's good, and some choices within the first movement are definitely to my liking.
Ultimately, though, this is a very problematic recording: first off, the voices are too distant, The sound in general is often too thin, forcing me, for the first time in decades, to put to good use my headphone amplifier. Maybe these dynamics are in fact more accurate and true to an execution involving hundreds of players, but if compression is the price to pay to have a satisfying listening experience, so be it!
Also, Tennstedt chooses the wrong spots to accelerate his beat, namely the finales of both parts and in particular part I, where he can't even achieve a hint of a unison in the final chord (Paaaaaa-tri!), for me the staplemark of a great orchestra and chorus.
I think I'll check out some other of his Mahler interpretations (already know the live 8 and have the live I with the CSO) but in this most challenging symphony the definitive recording, I fear, has yet to be made.
on 16 February 2010
For many years this was the only recording of Mahler's Eighth in my collection. I now own several but every time I play this set I'm instantly reminded why I love it so much and it is still the benchmark against which I compare all others.
Tennstedt had a natural instinct and feel for Mahler's world and his beloved London Philharmonic would go to the ends of the earth to help him realise it. He used to say that Mahler needed a 'dirty' sound and that's what you get here. That doesn't mean it's badly played - quite the opposite - but there's a craggy, earthy sound to the LPO's playing that is absolutely spot on, especially in the prelude to Part II. Compare it to the more refined sounds of the Berlin Philharmonic with Abbado or the CBSO with Rattle and you'll instantly appreciate the difference. There's no doubt that we're amongst forests, rocks and waterfalls here.
Tempos are occasionally idiosyncratic although never exceptionable. I particularly appreciate the ritardando just before the huge restatement of 'Veni, Creator' towards the end of Part I. Mahler doesn't ask for one in the score but this magical moment surely demands something. Tennstedt and Bernstein are the only conductors I know who give it its due and it sounds all the more effective for it.
The soloists are not what you'd call star names but don't let that worry you; they are all more than acceptable and combine well as a septet even if they are a little distant in the recording balance. Of the three principals, I think Elizabeth Connell and Edith Wiens are surpassed by Rattle's Christine Brewer and Soile Isokoski but Richard Versalle's Doctor Marianus stands comparison with anybody although Abbado's Peter Seiffert remains my favourite. The eighth soloist - the third soprano - is none other than Felicity Lott and she is ideally balanced at a distance for her Mater Gloriosa solo.
The choral contribution is exceptionally fine and really does benefit from a reduction in numbers, at least on disc. Clarity and articulation are greatly improved and at no point do I find their power and volume disappointing.
The recording quality is quite superb and one has to wonder what's happened to EMI's engineers over the past twenty years when they got better results in Walthamstow Town Hall in 1986 than they could manage in Birmingham's Symphony Hall in 2004! The balance is very natural, even down to the slightly recessed soloists who were positioned behind the orchestra for the sessions, and has a healthy bloom and resonance to it. Worthy of particular mention is the clear, rich sound of the Westminster Cathedral organ which was dubbed on afterwards but sounds perfectly integrated into the rest of the sound and has plenty of floor-rumbling presence.
An extraordinarily successful and very thoughtful account then, full of light and shade and ultimately far more rewarding than the headline-grabbing and histrionic Solti, more dramatic than the admittedly quite beautiful Abbado and better-recorded than the otherwise outstanding Rattle. With significant Mahler anniversaries over the next two years, I imagine many people will be discovering his music for the first time. First choice recommendations don't come easily in Mahler, especially the Eighth, but Tennstedt remains an exceptionally strong contender and is well worth your attention.