Building a Library with a too-perfect Mahler 8

Building a Library with a too-perfect Mahler 8


norman lebrecht

November 27, 2011

I was fairly confident that Radio 3’s Saturday feature would miss the point of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony on record and, sure enough, I was not disappointed. The point is that a work of 1,000 performers is unlikely to be credibly conveyed through two living-room speakers or mobile headphones (let alone mobile phones). So the record industry, in its prosperous studio times, went for tame-down performances that yielded note-perfection at the expense of mass excitation. Among these performances, the programme’s choice of Claudio Abbad was among the more respectable.

But if you want the verve, the vigour and the veracity of what the symphony really sounds like when a dedicated conductor builds a performance from raw materials and lets rip on the night there are, for me, five outstanding choices – the first of which took place about a year too late for inclusion in Why Mahler?


1 Riccardo Chailly, Lepizig, May 2011 (Accentus)

2 Klaus Tennstedt (LPO Live) – a little rough, but preferable to his studio takes.

Mahler: Symphony No. 8

3 Tennstedt on DVD (EMI)

4 Mitropoulos in Salzburg (Orfeo)

Mahler;Symphony No.8

5 Horenstein, the 1959 UK cycle premiere (BBC)

Mahler: Symphony 8, Horenstein in conversation

All else is compromise.


  • christopher oakmountain says:

    DVD: The “Tennstedt in Chicago” refers to Mahler 1
    Mahler 8 is LPO.

  • Alan Turtle says:

    Surely 3 is not in Chicago but in London like 2!


  • Alan Turtle says:

    and Horenstein’s is from 1959 not 1960 but in any case Henry Wood premiered it in the UK in 1930……….

  • I am a little disappointed by your phrase “I was fairly confident that Radio 3′s Saturday feature would miss the point”. In point of fact I have found the CD Review refreshing at times because the reviewers avoid Received Opinion. Karajan, for example, could do no wrong for Gramophone magazine throughout the 70s and 80s but the BBC revewers would often point errors in his so-called “fabled ear” – wrong notes , poor tuning, sluggish speeds etc. And someone on. Radio 3 alerted us the fact that very few of Karajan’s recordings would now be regarded as a top choice. I often find that I can be ‘fairly confident’ of a genuine opinion with certain of the reviewers on the BBC. That said, I have been a devoted reader of Gramophone every month since 1976.

  • Istvan Horthy says:

    Solti forever as far as I’m concerned: his version holds me in thrall from the first bar to the last. The Tennstedt is a con trick: there were no more than two hundred performers in the studio.

  • Nigel Cassidy says:

    I have always liked the impact of the ‘big moments’ in the Tennstedt studio recording which, for me, are slightly underwhelming in Abbado’s. It does have the clarity of voices though. I believe Abbado is set to complete his Lucerne cycle with the eigth this summer – that should be an interesting recording.

  • morgan says:

    I was pleased about the good mention for Kubelik’s version, which used to be sidelined in favour of ‘bigger’ versions.
    In this respect ,the programme (for me!) most definitely didn’t miss the point!