Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mahler 8 - Symphony of a Thousand Mistakes?


What stunning sound the BBC engineers achieved for their live broadcast of Valery Gergiev's Mahler 8 with the London Symphony Orchestra this evening. Yes, the close miking of the instruments necessitated by the very long resonance of the building was evident. But St Paul's Cathedral is one of the most difficult spaces in the world both to perform and record in, and the BBC Radio 3 technicians produced some of the best sound I have heard from my B & W Nautilus 803 loudspeakers for a long time. Valery Gergiev's operatic approach to symphonies is not usually to my taste, but it worked a treat with Mahler's flawed but exhilarating Eighth. Quite unmissable radio, catch it for the next seven days here.

One of the talking heads introducing the performance recounted how the work fell out of favour after Mahler's death and how surprising it was that the work was considered for a time to be lacking the genius of the composer's other symphonies. Well that is a view that some fine musicians still hold today. Have you ever heard Bernard Haitink conduct Mahler 8 in a concert?

Yes, he did record it for Philips in 1971 as part of a complete cycle of the symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and I think there was a Berlin performance captured on video. But the reason why concert performances by Haitink of the Symphony of a Thousand are rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth is just the cost and logistical challenges of performing it. But presumably he will give it a very rare performance as part of his Chicago Symphony Mahler cycle?

My header image is a scan of the box of the original Decca vinyl LP release of Solti's Mahler 8 which was recorded in Vienna's Sofiensaal with the Chicago Symphony in 1971. Now that recording is the original long ride in a fast machine, and although I also have the CD transfer the original vinyl pressings sound far superior. Fascinating that Solti recorded Mahler in Vienna with an orchestra from Chicago, could it have been because of this?
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5 comments:

Pliable said...

My early CD release of the Solti Mahler 8 uses some very bland 'made for CD' graphics. But I notice that the recording is now available with the original LP graphic as used in my header image, albeit in the small format.

It is good to see the record companies recognising that not everything that the CD brought with it was great.

Now all Decca have to do is match the sound of those 1972 vinyl pressings.

Pliable said...

Today's Independent review of the concert confirms what I suspected - that the sound from BBC Radio 3 was much better than the sound heard by the audience in St Paul's.

Despite my commitment to live music I am afraid that St Paul's and the Albert Hall (home of the Proms) are just two of the concert venues where the best seat in the house is in front of the loudspeakers at home.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/lsogergiev-st-pauls-cathedral-london-864929.html

Attic Fantasist said...

I agree with Pliable: the RAH's best seat is probably at home. I made a special trip down to London a few years ago to hear Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgeouw Orchestra play Mahler's 6th. All the wonderful detailing from this team was in evidence, so long as I strained my ear. I was disappointed, and it was all the RAH's fault. But you could never move the Proms from this venue, even though doing so would circumvent the Hall's sky-high booking charges!

I also wanted to attend Gergiev's Mahler 8 was put off by Martin Kettle in Prospect writing on the issue of St Paul's acoustics. I'd like to listen to the broadcast, though. For me, Chailly's recording with the RCO can't be beaten. Even Boulez's recent recording with the Berliner Staatskapelle yields some startling results!

Pliable said...

I should also have complimented BBC Radio 3 continuity announcer Petroc Trelawny in this post.

He stayed silent well into the applause at the end of the Mahler allowing me to gently fade him out at home before he started his vacuous gushings.

Corgan Sow said...

I asked a friend who isn't a classical fan to catch that Mahler 8th after I showed her a Youtube video. To my astonishment she remarked later that the concert was flat and lifeless. A flat and lifeless LIVE Mahler 8th?! If I had heard about the notorious acoustics of St Paul earlier...