Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|David Zinman, Mahler|
Mahler: Symphony No 8 (2 Hybrid Super Audio CD)
Here, the indescrible is acheived - with one big exception
B. Guerrero | 05/01/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
". . and that exception is the cast of soloists employed, but more on that topic later. That said, this is now my personal favorite among Mahler 8 recordings, as it simply captures the larger-than-life moments in all their technicolor glory, while also mining sufficient clarity out of the more "chamber music" like moments as well (such as the hushed choral writing before Doktor Ecastaticus' big solo in Part II, or the gentle yet colorful accompaniment behind the three penitent women, some 30 minutes down the line). In other words, it's simply more like hearing the piece in a good live performance (and the organ IS permitted to roar at Mahler's fortissimo marking, imagine that!). Yet, I wouldn't recommend this new one to anybody who's sensitive about the cast of soloists.
Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey is hardly more successful here than he was on the recent Tilson Thomas/San Francisco S.O. recording of the work. For me, he's the one big downfall amongst this cast. That said, he does improve during the crucial "blicket auf" passage; the second of the tenor's two big solos in Part II. But he's also no match for Solti's Rene Kollo, Johan Botha (Boulez/DG), Ben Heppner (C.Davis and Chailly); or, best of all, Richard Leech (Maazel/Sony). Even Jon Villars on the Simon Rattle Mahler 8 is better in the long run.
In Part II, baritone Stephen Powell does a very solid job on Pater Ecstaticus' big solo, but the bass-baritone solo that immediately follows (Pater Profundis) isn't sung nearly as well. Alfred Muff, like MTT's James Morris, barks, wobbles, and nearly goes flat on his top notes. Yet, he does give a valiant, Wagnerian effort. It's just that the difference is immediately noticeable.
By and large, the women are fairly good. Both Yvonne Naef and Birgit Remmart are true contraltos, so they sound a bit "big" during the passage for the three penitent women. In Part I, it sounds as though Zinman has placed his soloists farther back than in Part II. Moving them forward makes sense for the opening, "Wagnerian" solos in Part II, but I do wish those penitent women had been placed farther back in this case; the accompaniment behind them is just so light and chamber-like.
Soprano Juliane Banse is a bit aggressive in her various, "Una Poenitentium" solos in Part II. But she also just nails her one big solo, right after the three penitent women have finished giving their input (it's located immediately before the brief, mini-solo for offstage soprano). Here, U.P. pretty much demands to be Faust's "teacher", as he's being blinded by the light of a "new" day (it's Goethe!). Banse launches the word "neue" (new) at a full fortissimo, then pulls back beautifully for the final word,"tag" (day). After that, Lisa Larsson lacks a certain ethereal quality in that offstage solo. Too much is often made of this solo in many reviews, as it's actually quite short in duration. However, it is one brief moment that's truly better on the Tilson Thomas Mahler 8 (great mandolin, too - if that matters).
Well, there you have it - that's the worst of it. But the rest is terrific. Part I is a knock-out through and through, and the end of Part II has to be heard to be believed.
Like Tilson-Thomas and Simon Rattle, Zinman does make a big accelerando in the final measures of Part I (Mahler tempers that accelerando with the word, "somewhat"). But as in Gerard Schwartz's recent and excellent effort from Seattle, you can hear ALL of the offstage brass parts as well. That may seem like a petty point, but it actually makes a big difference. In Part II, Zinman is a bit relaxed at times, but he does conjure sufficient intensity out of the two big orchestral outbursts that happen before the baritone solo. He also never loses sight of his main prize, which is the very end of symphony. I would describe his approach as relaxed (not slow) but focused. As if that weren't enough, the finish to the "blicket auf" passage doesn't sound like an anti-climax for once. In other words, Zinman nails ALL of the big moments throughout this performance. It's also a really good sounding pipe organ that they have in the Zurich Tonhalle, just in case that matters to you (it does to me!)
Those who are collecting Zinman's mostly fine cycle, along with those who are just plain curious, can purchase this new Mahler 8 with confidence. For those of whom where the cast of soloists is an important issue in this work, I'd suggest sticking to Solti; Kubelik (best singing of all!); Sinopoli (great women); Maazel (very slow tempi, though); Chailly; Rattle; or Boulez. Bernstein's 1975 Mahler 8 from Vienna - captured on video by Untitel, and transferred to dvd by DG - isn't to be missed either. For such a huge, "feel good" work - the Beethoven's 9th of the Art Nouveau era - we've been remarkably lucky!"
A beautifully engineered Eighth, and a good performance, too
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 04/28/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"David Zinman's Mahler cycle began in 2007 with Sym. #1 and has proceeded chronologically, arriving now at the leviathan Eighth. This performance, sold as a two-fer, comes to the U.S. with advance praise from British critics, who were particularly impressed by its sense of reserve. For me, that puts a nice face on blandness, but all along Zinman has benefited from very clear sonics, and when you combine these two factors, something surprising emerges, a special clarity. Zinman takes time to sort out every line. Some of this is due to the microphone -- the engineers give us the full power of the organ in Part I, for example, while the solo voices are captured as a beautifully blended group. The Eighth is very hard to record, and Zinman's caution allows for a careful rendering of this hugely complex score.
Tempos in Part I are slow; every phrase is lingered over. This reading is thus the opposite of Solti's, where tension and propulsion were everything. Here, there is a feeling of near stasis quite a lot of the time. It's a radical, even queer way to conduct Mahler's ecstatic setting of "Veni, creator spiritus," yet my attention was held. It's good that a lineup of excellent singers was assembled. The choir is also quite good, and they sound more sizable than the choruses on the last two (very good) Mahler Eighths to come my way, from Pierre Boulez and Michael Tilson Thomas. Only at the greatest climaxes did I feel that Zinman was directing traffic, without much sense of vision or even interpretation.
Part II has always been the problematic half of the Eighth. Many critics feel that Mahler's inspiration failed him, all the more because of the exalted text of Goethe's Faust, a cosmic conception that perhaps no music can adequately express. In any case, with so many exposed vocal solos, each one freighted by spiritual meaning, few recorded accounts cross the finish line without some disappointments along the way. If you are a stickler for orchestral work, disappointment arrives early in the thin, somewhat sour woodwinds of the Zurich Tonhalle, a good provincial ensemble that cannot compete with the best. Zinman leads correctly and without intrusion (I'm not paying a compliment), abut happily, he rouses himself to a convincingly forceful climax before the chorus enters in mysterioso fashion, sotto voce -- but here a bit stiffly.
By this time I found myself rooting for this performance. As Part II unfolds, it has its slack spots -- a feature of Zinman's entire cycle -- but the vocal soloists hold up their end well. The tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey, also participated in the Tilson Thomas recording. Compared to hearing him live, on records he sounds strained and gargly. The Slavic bass is agreeably powerful; the two sopranos hide their strain better than most. In short, there are no stars in this group but no wincing weaknesses, either. Here's a complete listing:
Melanie Diener, Julianne Banse, Lisa Larsson (sopranos), Yvonne Naef, Birgit Remmert (mezzos), Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor), Stephen Powell (baritone), Askar Abdrazakov (bass)
At the great moment of apotheosis, "Blicket auf," Zinman is let down by his tenor, but he himself creeps a bit into the final ecstatic climax. The engineers help him, though, and we get a powerful sonic buildup. There are no recordings that achieve Mahler's intended effect of an overwhelming panoply of divine glory, so I can't hold that against this account. On the whole, Zinman does himself proud, even for a non-fan like me."
Bravo - a real joy
Prescott Cunningham Moore | 05/05/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an important win for Zinman and his Swiss band. To date, Zinman's Mahler has been variable, teetering between good and bad. On the bad end of the spectrum sits his Second, a soggy, limp performance, likely the most boring in the catalogue. His Fifth and Seventh were variable, both featuring miscalculated first movements and the Rondo-Finale of the Seventh just never took off. However, Zinman's "Titian" was solid, if somewhat underwhelming in the finale, and his Fourth very beautiful indeed. And his Third and Sixth were revelations, really miraculous performances that stand side-by-side with the best of the competition. Now, with this intelligent and insightful Eighth, Zinman proves that he is a worthy Mahlerian, one who's cycle deserves our attention and very well may have some staying power in this market.
Indeed, once a rarity, the arrival of a recording of the Mahler Eighth is a quotidian occurrence. Just in the last decade, we've seen releases from Boulez, Chailly, Davis, Gielen, Nagano, Rattle, Thomas, and Wit (just to name the big ones), many of which are fantastic. Add to this pile the classic performances from Bernstein (London), Solti, Bertini, Kubelik, and Tennstedt you've got some stiff competition. But, against all odds, Zinman turns in a really fine Eighth, one that might not displace those reference performances, but one that will please none-the-less.
I really liked this Eighth. For me, Zinman's ability to capture and maintain tension through large paragraphs of architectural sound made it a particular joy. That isn't to say the performance is not without its deficits, however, and, as with so many Eighths, the soloists are a liability. Most of the problems begin and end with Anthony Dean Griffey, a light toned tenor who has no business recording this music. Indeed, he was the biggest vocal problem with Thomas's San Francisco Eighth, and he returns here with his fragile voice to cause all sorts of problems. He is nearly inaudible in Part I and he lacks the vocal heft and stamina a true Heldentenor needs for the near-impossible Doctor Marianus in Part II. I'm also not wild about Lisa Larsson. Her appearance as Mater Gloriosa is promising, emerging from the rear of the hall and sounding appropriately heavenly. However, she struggles with the high notes just when they should sound pure and unforced. The pair of sopranos, Melanie Diener and Juliane Banse, ossilate between good and bad - they sound forced and strained early in Part II but settle into their roles nicely towards the end. However, Miss Diener's screeches towards the end of the exposition in Part I don't really soar over the orchestra as they should. However, finding the perfect vocal nonet is near impossible, especially in this day. Indeed, RCA wouldn't know how to cast this symphony if they had the pick of the litter but none of the soloists, save for Mr. Griffy, are real liabilities or distractions.
But at the end of the day, much of this falls by the wayside when you have a performance, as we find here, were the man in charge knows how to organize Mahler's disparate parts and really make sense of this baffling and bizarre work. Zinman has never had a reputation as an exciting conductor because he tends to focus on form over surface appeal. And in this work, his particular talents fit the Eighth like a hand in a glove. The conductor's job in Part I mostly requires balancing of the forces, maintaining tension, and building to the three big climaxes. In this sense, Zinman is just masterful. The energy is high, but never artificial, and each big moment is exciting not so much because Zinman indulges in vulgar extremes but because he expertly builds to each moment, so the ensuing release is particularly well felt. While the beginning of the development might not be a colorful as we've found from Chailly or Wit, Zinman's tempo choice for Accende lumen sensibus is just about perfect. It's exciting as hell and is reminiscent of Bertini's fabulous handling of this section, which is high praise indeed. The recapitulation is not just big, but also logical and musically satisfying, while the final passages, including a really splendidly handled upward scale, give a real sense of completeness, not just bigness as we've found so often in other performances.
Zinman's tempo for the poco adagio introduction to Part II strikes me as ideal, thankfully eschewing the recent "go as slowly as possible" trend. This is a mistake in my mind because it fails to really capture the mountains, gorges, and wastelands Mahler was trying to create, instead sounding more like a tensionless purgatory. Indeed, tempo is the ever critical element of Part II, and Zinman keeps it flowing, stopping every now and then to carefully and unobtrusively comment on the score. For example, the entrance of the children's chorus is just really well done because he keeps the story moving forward. As aforementioned, Mr. Griffy's Doctor Marianus is not quite up to par with the rest of the performance, but after he's finished, it's pretty much smooth sailing until the final peroration.
And what of the final peroration? For me, it's ideal. Sure, it lacks the muscularity (vulgarity?) of Solti or the hugeness of Nagano, but it is perfect because it most accurately realizes Mahler's intentions. The various brass chorals congeal not only with each other but also with the organ - essentially doubling it - creating this massive organ-like tone that is truly heavenly. It is just hugely colorful and idiomatic, percussion thankfully fully audible.
The playing is good, not great. The brass sounds strained throughout and the winds do not always pierce through the texture as they should. But the strings and weighty, the organ is present, never obtrusive, and properly woven into the texture. The various choirs are impressive and the soloists are integrated into the polyphonic texture in a way that it really does sound like a symphony of a thousand working together as one. The sonic landscape is clear and the deep resonance of the Tonhalle surprisingly well captured.
But at the end of the day, this is Zinman's success ultimately because he convinces. This was, plain and simple, an enjoyable listening experience because he really understands the story and tells it well. The symphony just makes sense and, for someone who has never quite warmed to this disparate and somewhat self-indulgent work, I found it one of the best told and most engaging Eighths to date. Sure, it may not beat out my reference Bertini, the fabulous Concertgebouw in Chailly's cycle, or Wit and Nagano for shear beauty, but it is so well argued, it disarms most criticism.
Zinman's cycle is proving to be the Little Engine that Could; a cycle that, against all odds, has really been a pleasure to explore. Bravo to all involved. Let's hope the Ninth and Carpenter Tenth (sadly no Das Lied) are as successful, although I have reservations about the Ninth based on Zinman's difficultly with Mahler's brusque humor.
(Note: I also must give RCA kudos for the high production values, but I find it odd that, to date, six of the eight installments feature nudity in the cover art. And this installment, with a consort of nudes, certainly takes the cake. While Mahler's message of redemption through the eternal feminine makes the choice somewhat apropos, it's still an interesting choice none-the-less.)"