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Gustav Mahler: Symphonies No. 8 & 10 (Adagio)
Erin Wall, Elza van den Heever, Laura Claycomb (Sopranos), Katarina Karnéus, Yvonne Naef (Mezzo-sopranos), Anthony Dean Griffey (Tenor), Quinn Kelsey (Baritone), James Morris (Bass-baritone), San Francisco Symphony Chorus, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (Conductor)
Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco (April 6-8, 2006 [Symphony No. 10] & November 19-23, 2008) – 112’02
SFS Media 821936-0021-2 – Booklet in English, French, and German

This release completes MTT/SFS’s Mahler symphony cycle, a massive project begins in 2001. For every distinguished conductor, Mahler’s symphonies are the ultimate artistry. What makes SFS’s version outstanding from an abundance of fine recordings is indeed the CD’s recording quality. Every disc, including these two, is recorded on a hybrid SACD, in which the superlative sound unflaggingly captures Mahler’s intricate textures and colorful orchestrations. Even the positions and distances of each orchestral part can be audibly identified through the loudspeakers. These are consolidated by the orchestra’s consummate playing and enchanting intonation, a constant quality throughout the whole cycle. The frequent ornaments and string glissandos in the Adagio from the Symphony No. 10, for instance, are all carefully matched and trimly synchronized.

It is surprising that Maestro Tilson Thomas’s musical taste shows a stark contrast to his mentor, Leonard Bernstein, another Mahler specialist who recorded two complete cycles in the 1960s and 1980s respectively. Comparing to Bernstein’s ebullience and expressivity (especially in the famous 1980s cycle), Tilson Thomas’s interpretation sounds more intellectual and analytical. This gives Mahler’s music exceptional sense of majesty and dignity, telling exemplified in the Symphony of a Thousand. The opening of this Symphony is elegantly and grandly rendered, unlike some other conductors’ (especially Bernstein’s) hot-blooded approaches. However, the price he pays is the underpowered intensity in Part I and the plain-spoken passion in Part II. The more inward and introversive Symphony No. 10 seems more apposite to Tilson Thomas’s personality.

The CD leaflet includes comprehensive program notes of Mahler’s two symphonies, written in English by experienced writer, SFS’s 30-year partner Michael Steinberg, translated into German and French. Inside the leaflet, like a concert brochure, there are also photos and rosters of the orchestra and the chorus, as well as that of the eight soloists. What deserves praise too is the enclosure of the complete lyrics in their original languages (Latin for Part I and German for Part II), and three translations (English, German, and French). It displays the internationally acclaimed orchestra’s worldwide horizon.

It is difficult to assert this collection is at the top of all Mahler cycles available on the market. But for a loyal Mahler aficionado, MTT/SFS’s cycle is definitely an indispensable one. The balanced and lucid textures, an essential ingredient of Mahler’s works, and the supreme recording level are the kind of rarity that only this collection possesses.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui




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