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on 20 December 2009
For many years, I'd inexplicably neglected Abbado's Mahler but this beautiful recording of the Eighth showed me what I'd been missing. It's an extremely thoughtful and romantic account, similar in style to Tennstedt's award-winning EMI set with the LPO [ Mahler - Symphonies Nos 4 and 8 ]. Abbado never goes for cheap tricks or grandstanding effects but merely allows the luscious score to unfold at a natural pace, generating its own momentum and tensions, of which there are plenty. Orchestral playing is quite superb and anyone who doubts the BPO's credentials in Mahler really ought to hear this. Instrumental detail and balancing is exquisite and it's clear to me that Abbado sees this very much as a symphony rather than some sort of oratorio-cantata hybrid.

The chorus is just about the right size; big enough to generate the right power and volume but not too big for the sound engineers to handle. Their diction and singing is also exceptional, making this possibly the best choral contribution in this work on record.

The soloists, as ever, require a degree of compromise. Cheryl Studer and Sylvia McNair are a little too light in tone for my liking and Studer has one or two little wobbles; surprising, considering her exceptional Strauss and Wagner recordings of around the same time. Nevertheless, they both make some beautiful sounds even if they fall short of the gold standard set by Christine Brewer and Soile Isokoski for Rattle on EMI [ Mahler - Symphony No 8 ]. Andrea Rost (Mater Gloriosa) is perfectly acceptable, as is Rosemarie Lang, but I think Anne Sofie von Otter is a definite cut above the rest. It's a shame her role is so small! Of the gents, Jan-Hendrik Rootering is solid but a little detached, especially in comparison with Bryn Terfel's superb Pater Ecstaticus (the best on record...?). The real star though is Peter Seiffert who manages to sustain the fiendishly difficult, high-lying solos in Part II without compromising either musical accuracy or sheer beauty of tone.

The sound quality is exceptionally good, with a healthy reverberation, plenty of air around the performers and a natural balance. The only slight drawback is a rather restrained organ. It's there where it needs to be, for sure, but it never has the presence or richness of sound that Tennstedt's Westminster Cathedral instrument offers on his EMI set.

I suppose the principal drawback of this set is still its price and I hope that doesn't tempt potential buyers towards the much cheaper and more famous Solti recording on Decca. Abbado's more balanced, romantic and, dare I say it, subtle view of this lavish work will give you far more listening mileage and teach you far more about Mahler's epic conception than the shrieking, superficial histrionics of Solti. If Abbado is too expensive then go for Rattle or Tennstedt (which is still, actually, my favourite).
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on 4 May 2018
very good sound!!!
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on 16 July 2015
this particular recording was recommended and I am very pleased with it
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on 25 January 2016
Sheer masterpiece
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on 3 January 2017
very well played and recorded but............ somehow not quite the intense experience Mahler 8 should be. Abbado does not quite have the breadth and depth of vision of this music which would make the recording a prime contended for being the top recommendation - though in fairness it is far better than many others. Without a shadow of doubt Solti on Decca is by a long margin is the finest recording.
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on 24 May 2013
Impressive for a live performance; little else to compare it against but marvellous sound quality and tremendous cast. Expensive but worth it.
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on 9 May 2003
This Symphony, often thought to be Mahler's most important work, is presented here with reassuring authority. Claudio Abbado seems to feel his way through the music, rather than carve. The first movement, a glorious hymn to the Creator Spirit, at 23 minutes long, is given generous space by Abbado, but never lacks the necessary movement, or tensions. In the second movement, the Final Scene from Goethe's "Faust", Part II, the same consideration of space is shown. Each new entry into the texture feels organic, and the whole movement leads convincingly to the exuberant finale.

This recording is a live recording (though sadly with the applause cut from the end), and as such bears certain marks, such as the occasional slightly flat top notes in the trumpets, occasional entries not quite together, and other things which can, and often do, go wrong in concert. Minor quibbles aside, the playing from the Berlin Philharmonic is fantastic, with energetic and powerful singing from the Rundfunkchor Berlin, Prage Philharmonic Choir and the Tölzer Knabenchoir. Soloist are Cheryl Studer, Sylvia McNair, Andrea Rost, Anna Sophie Von Otter, Rosemarie Lang, Peter Seiffert, Bryn Terfel and Jan-Hendrik Rootering. The solo singing is also of very high quality and blends well with the orchestra and choir in the final choruses.

The sound quality of the disks is first-rate. The balance within the orchestra is accurate and the orchestra balances against the choirs. The soloists were placed at the front of the stage during the concert and so are easily heard at the front of the mix. My only disappointment sound wise is that the organ is often not really loud enough.

However you really should not be put off by those negative comments. This is a moving account of Mahler's 8th and is highly recommended for its extraordinary emotional drive, excellent performance and beautiful sound.
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on 19 March 2007
Compared to some lame performances of 8th released in recent years (Chailly's cool headed account for example), Abbado's account of Mahler 8th is not bad. Probably the most impressive recording available after Sinopoli's miraculous account.

In both 1st and 2nd parts, it takes a while until it really heats up, but once it takes off the splendor and sumputuousness of sound is just amazing. Sheer richness of texture and harmony, thanks to excellent recording, really gives the sense of how Mahler tried to be ambitious in composing this symphony. Solists are pretty good too, very passionate but none of the operatic diva non-sense which often spoils so many performances of this symphony. And the magnificent ending with bang.

Everything is fine, but I can not help asking more. Like Resurrection Symphony or Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, Mahler 8th needs something transcendent and something more extreme, to penetrate into higher realm. Horenstein and Solti almost do it. Sinopoli very close. Bernstein falls apart before getting there. Abbado, no. We need to wait yet for a conductor who has capacity to match greatness of this symphony.
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on 1 August 2017
Radio 3's Building a Library Choice (2014).
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