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on 10 October 2012
Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler First on DVD was, as Clive Goodwin points out, quite disappointing: focused on superficial effect rather than substance, especially in comparison with the stunning Dvorak "New World" he recorded with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart (Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI). One could then suspect that the young conductor had not quite plumbed the depth and idiom of Mahler's musical language. So it was with slight trepidation when I ordered the disk, but everything fell into place happily when I played it the first time around. If you want to know my own personal ambivalent feelings about the Eighth - Mahler's last, gargantuan and somewhat desperate fling with late Romanticism - do read my reviews of the Bernstein (with the Seventh) and Tennstedt (with the First) readings on DVD, both noble and persuasive performances, though now dated in audio and video. The outstanding recent recording by Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester brought the oratorio-symphony much closer to me: it is wonderfully exuberant, highly disciplined at the same time and always conscious of the various structural layers, the shifts in mood and the balances between human and instrumental voices, not to mention the virtuosity of all involved.

Dudamel has assembled more than 1000 participants: Mahler's dream is finally realized in our time. The rehearsals must have been grueling. As it turns out, the recording of these two orchestras combined into one big happy band, the very fine (perhaps not altogether outstanding) soloists and the army of choristers - no small feat indeed - is surprisingly clear, though certainly not lean. Video is very good. Dudamel has a firm and thoughtful grip on the proceedings, he obviously knows the music very well, his body language is appropriate and he appears to be in touch with every group, even each individual musician. This is quite amazing. His approach to the score may not be as detail-focused as Chailly's and Tennstedt's - let's say it is slightly more synthetic than analytical - but not a single note is lost or glossed over.

From the initial organ chord and jubilant orchestral-choral bars, the mood of the Veni Creator Spiritus is joyous, festive and simply overwhelming. You can almost see Mahler smiling down from Heaven. The Second Part, based on Goethe's Faust II, much less compact and somewhat problematic to carry off without dragging, is played and sung very well indeed. Every nuance of pain, love and ecstasy is shaped beautifully and the ending - Faust's deliverance after his 100-year quest through time, life, guilt and redemption - is apocalyptic. Next to the soloists, who give their all, the various choirs shine out, in particular the children, without sheet music, obviously rehearsed splendidly and fully transported by the spirit of the occasion. Brava Venezuela for these beautiful musical youths! All in all, this adds up to a stunning and deeply moving performance you don't want to miss. It goes, together with Chailly, to the top of my Mahler shelf - after I listen to it at least once more.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 January 2013
This certainly looked as if it might be the ultimate experience for a home cinema system and I was looking forward to trying out the surround sound version on Blu Ray.

The visuals certainly are crystal clear and you get a good impression of the vast forces at work and the difficulty that must have been involved in both putting this on and conducting. You can see the additional brass forces up in the wings and the children's choir, performing from memory. Everything is portrayed very clearly, so you get a sense of the size of the hall and how everything only just about fits - it's almost claustrophobic in feeling.

However, while being impressed by the players and the intensity of the conductor, I was slightly disappointed by the overall sound, which to my ears was unbalanced and lacked bass definition. In the first movement the organ was lost completely, while in other recordings, the organ bass pedals shake the floor and provide a massive anchor for the huge ensemble.

Here I felt the high frequency sounds dominated and overpowered the lower sounds - presumably because there were so many singers - a big thing is made of 1400 people being involved - whereas many great recordings make do with far fewer. I also felt there was so much going on in the high frequency part of the spectrum that you lost a sense of the music "breathing" and natural reverberation had no room to come through.

Having said that - this is clearly a "must see" concert for anybody who has the remotest interest in this kind of music and you can imagine how it must have sounded in the hall, even if this doesn't quite come across in the surround sound recording. This was a massive achievement for Dudamel and furthers his repuation as the most exciting conductor and music maker in the world.

I enjoyed seeing this and I think that it is well-worth owning, even if the sound is slightly disappointing.
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A superb audio and video transfer of an outstanding performance. Unfortunately the translated Englishsubtitles are absolutely appaling and occasionally so bad as to be comic so avoid like the plague as they make no sense and can ruin your viewing experience. Recommended despite this.
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on 23 November 2012
Gustavo Dudamel's 2012 performances of Mahler's 8th Symphony will go down in history. In amassing four Venezuelan choruses (made up of other separate choirs), two orchestras and eight soloists, Dudamel has taken Emil Gutmann's moniker of the 'Symphony of a Thousand' and Richard Taruskin's claims of 'maximalism' as a raison d'être. Dudamel is clearly good at thinking big but, ironically, it is in the gangbuster sections of Mahler's score that he and his vast forces fail to take wing.

Whether the transfer to DVD has muffled the live experience, those of us not at the performances in Caracas (captured here) or in Los Angeles can never know, but as a film it feels flat. There is little room within the Teatro Teresa Carreño for the more dynamic camera angles of, for example, the Proms or live Berlin relays and, despite my own large TV screen and usually adequate sound system, this DVD does not communicate the grandeur of Mahler's magniloquent vision.

There are, however, plusses in the performance's favour. The soloists are superb, not least Manuela Uhl as Magna Peccatrix and Anna Larsson's burnished Mulier Samaritana. Brian Mulligan and Alexander Vinogradov likewise bring real operatic weight to the Pater ecstaticus and Pater profundus narratives. Taking their lead from these soloists, the vast chorus produces an eager sound (if occasionally dipping under the note).

The vocal performances dominate the DVD as much as this review. All too often the film privileges them within the mix and the combined forces of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela sound either tinny or muted in comparison. Then again, these orchestras are two of a kind rather than a harmonious pair. Both bands bring a strident quality to their Mahler which needs to be wedded to a heartier and, dare I say it, more European sound, such as evinced in Chailly's recent and no less spectacular performance with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. There's a lot of bass and tons of treble, but not much in between.

The most significant shortcoming is, however, its biggest selling point. Scale does not provide sonic impact in Mahler's 8th Symphony and, too busy marshalling his forces, Dudamel fails to give harmonic significance to its ground-shaking finales. Employing such a huge lineup in the more intimate passages likewise produces ragged ensemble and abrupt phrasing.

No doubt there will be others who will remark on the great achievements of the Sistema programme. Others will sit amazed by the spectacle on offer, the kind of pageant of which impresario Emil Gutmann could only dream at the premiere in Munich in 1910. But what this DVD offers in size it lacks in majesty and its glories are too sporadic to welcome repeated viewings. Sometimes less is more.
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on 12 April 2014
This is a truly spectacular performance from the electrifying start to the triumphant finale. It is an amazing feet of control for the conductor to direct 1400 musicians and singers. The music is spiritual and potrays faith, doubt and anxiety. A knowledge of the medieval hymn (part 1) and Goethe's Faust (part 2) would assist appreciation, but in any event, the introduction provided by the conductor in the extras is a useful aid. I really believe that this is one for the DVD as opposed to the CD if you want maximise the enjoyment. A landmark production.
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on 1 December 2013
I have known and loved Mahler's 8th for many years, and have attended two mild live performances, If Mahler really planned a symphony involving over a thousand performers, then this BluRay recording under Dudamel would have delighted him. It is spectacular, and particularly moving to see, and hear the large proportion of young people in among the performers.There might be more musically perfect recordings on CD - Solti, Tennstedt and Sinopoli, but for visual impact try Dudamel. My suggestion would be not to start your initial listening at the beginning, but start at "Blicket Auf", last but one section. In this way you begin by focussing on the tenor soloist, and then gradually you are made aware of the sheer vastness of the massive choir, from a beautifully held and controlled pianissimo to the full power of such a group of singers. Spine-tingling. Two very minor points. One the camera does seem to concentrate a lot on the conductor at the expense of such a range of different instruments, and Two the brilliantly placed brass choirs up high at the back; the sound should assuredly have come from that physical area. My recording "saw" the sound coming from where the camera pointed ie in front, rather than where the audience would have heard it coming from. Just a little bit of magic that would have added to a magnificent occasion. Show it to your friends who have never heard of Mahler and wait for the reaction!
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on 3 January 2013
OK, where do I start? This is not a symphony any more. It is the SUPERBOWL! Nothing wrong with that. I watch it myself every season hoping the Broncos might be there. From the photograph, I am not sure whether Dudamel has cast himself as Christ or Charlton Heston. Possibly both. If you want to take the heavily ironic epithet Symphony of a Thousand to the realms of total absurdity, then this is it. Unfortunately, Mahler and his music are sunk without trace.

In fact, Mahler apart from the fairly short paen of praise Veni Creator Spiritus and the last few minutes when Gretchen is permitted to introduce Faust's soul into heaven by Mary, virtually never uses his entire forces all at once. What he does is use them as a great musical palette to create almost chamber-like visions in sound. There is precedent in the 2nd Symphony 'Resurrection'.

Cecil Mille could readily have produced this. Probably the kids would have been floating above the choir of Angels as Cherubim and Seraphim, all in suitably rich Renaissance raiment. Musically it can't and doesn't work. For Mahler go to Solti etc. or any one of a number of fine performances. However, I did say that there is nothing wrong with spectacle per se. Go for it. However, make sure that you have the most gigantic TV screen available and an awesome surround-sound hi-fi, warn your neighbours, turn it up full and enjoy.

My 3 stars are an average of 1 for insightful musical performance and 5 for mighty spectacle. Why not? Someone had to do it. Incidentally, musically in the scoring and length Havergal Brian's Gothic symphony is a more gargantuan work. Please don't let maestro Dudamel loose on that or the Ring for that matter. Enjoy, as it will never be done like this again.
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on 22 February 2013
This massive production earns full marks for vision and sound. It could have been a rowdy mess but all the problems are very well solved - better than almost all versions I have heard.. This may not be the Mahler of a more experienced conductor but Dudamel appears in total control of his huge forces and by the end of it all I was happily convinced. The finale is just magnificent and moving and the children touch the heart. At £13 it is something of a no-brainer!
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on 21 September 2013
I also heard the version of Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra which is great, fine and overwhelming, but in the Dudamel's you can really see the contrast of two worlds: Europe and South America. Both vastly different, it is difficult to compare, but this version is monumental by the size of the orchestra and the grandeur of the choirs and soloists. I truly recommend it to all fans of Mahler. The music and poetry: simply wonderful.
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on 21 January 2013
All in all this is a fantastic Blue-ray and both the picture and sound is exemplary . My only reservation was that I personally think that the soloists were really in the first rank .But then again the music that they are required to sing must be the most taxing that Mahler could have dreamed up ! My greatest joy was the chorus which despite the huge numbers in the choir(s) was perfectly recorded and never became "muddy".. I am delighted and inspired by this monumental work. Dudemal is a genius to have been able to conduct the vast numbers both in the orchestra and in the choirs. It takes very good audio and visual equipment to do this disc justice I may say
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