Dudamel’s Mahler 8th for All Time

by Sedgwick Clark

Gustavo Dudamel’s recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony will restore your faith in life. Quite simply, it is the most thrilling newly recorded release I’ve heard in decades.

This Mahler Eighth must be seen to be believed. With a mind-boggling choral phalanx of 1,200 on risers, the combined orchestras of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, eight soloists, and lord knows how many more choristers tucked into the nooks and crannies of Caracas’s Teatro Teresa Carreño, the work handily earns a new nickname as the “Symphony of Over 1,400.” Deutsche Grammophon has released it on Blu-ray, conventional DVD, and CD, but forget about the latter format unless you want to listen in the car or on a walk in Maiernigg.

I sat transfixed last Saturday night watching a Blu-ray on a 60-inch Panasonic plasma TV with a Bose sound system in a large room, wishing I had had the presence of mind to catch its HD theater engagement earlier this year. But even a home viewing was overwhelming, with every last chorister clearly etched and instrumental timbre true. The camera work, attributed to Michael Beyer (video director), was remarkably musical: none of that frenzied American brand of a new angle every second, which made last week’s New York Philharmonic Live from Lincoln Center broadcast unwatchable.

The Eighth was the climax of Dudamel’s complete (numbered) Mahler symphony cycle shared between the two orchestras in L.A. and Caracas last January and February, except that in the Eighth the orchestras performed together. He was leading the Eighth for the first time. It’s a great performance—as masterly as his LAPhil Mahler First video is callow. Perhaps most astonishing, even allowing for the magic of digital editing from two performances, the playing and choral singing are amazingly clear and precise.

If it doesn’t sweep the Grammys in every eligible category, I’ll eat all the Mahler recordings in my collection.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts:

10/5 Carnegie Hall. Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti. Dvořák: Symphony No. 5. Martucci: Notturno. Respighi: Feste romane.

5/10 at 7:30. Avery Fisher Hall. New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert; Robert Langevin, flute; Nikolaj Znaider, violin. Nielsen: Flute Concerto; Violin Concerto. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (“Little Russian”).

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