Melanie Diener (soprano – Magna Peccatrix)
Juliane Banse (soprano – Una Poenitentium)
Lisa Larsson (soprano – Mater Gloriosa)
Yvonne Naef (mezzo-soprano – Mulier Samaritana)
Birgit Remmert (mezzo-soprano – Maria Aegyptiaca)
Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor – Doctor Marianus)
Stephen Powell (baritone – Pater Ecstaticus)
Alfred Muff (bass – Pater Profundus)
Askar Abdrazakov (bass)
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
Recorded 27 February-3 March 2009, Tonhalle, Zurich
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: June 2010
CD No: RCA RED SEAL 88697579262
Duration: 82 minutes
Among the requirements for a performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, a sense of dynamism is perhaps the most essential, propelling the work from its jubilant opening pages through to its epic conclusion. It is this quality that is all too frequently absent in this release as part of David Zinman’s ongoing cycle of Mahler’s symphonies.
The reticent nature of Zinman’s interpretation is apparent in the opening hymn ‘Veni, creator spiritus’, in which the lack of fervour in the choral sound is matched by the lack of attack in the orchestra, the accented notes hardly registering. One only needs a brief listen to the equivalent passages in the recordings by Bernstein (DG) or Tennstedt (EMI) to hear a pace and impact that is missing from Zinman’s recording.
The performance becomes more convincing in the passage ‘Imple superna gratia’ with some eloquent singing from the soloists, although Melanie Diener’s contribution is undermined by her mispronunciation of the word “gratia”, which is rendered correctly by everyone else. The orchestral interlude which follows ‘Infirma nostri’ brings fine playing but suffers from a lack of atmosphere and mystery, and although the choir’s declamation of “Accende” is enthusiastic, the pacing of the subsequent double fugue feels unduly deliberate. One yearns for a greater sense of propulsion and exultation both here and in the concluding ‘Gloria’.
Part Two of the symphony fares little better. Despite Zinman’s animated tempo, the long orchestral prelude fails to engage, and delivery of the subsequent vocal and choral sequences is musical but somewhat laidback, the aspiring, luminous quality of the writing rarely apparent. The weight and sonority Zinman brings to the closing pages is impressive, although balance and cleanliness of ensemble are not entirely convincing here. Indeed, there are a number of errors in earlier passages, too, notably some fallible trumpet articulation in the latter stages of Part One. Incidentally, the symphony normally requires eight soloists, although the line-up here is supplemented by an additional bass, Askar Abdrazakov.
The recording has a wide frequency and dynamic range on both the stereo and surround-sound layers, slightly distanced but clear enough to distinguish antiphonal first and second violins. There is an unwarranted uplift in volume at 2’17” in track 8 of the first disc. Despite this oddity, I found the sound preferable to the reverberant Valery Gergiev and occasionally abrasive Michael Tilson Thomas recordings among CD/SACD releases. The booklet essay is supplemented by a PDF file on disc 1 that contains biographies of the soloists and choirs.