BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor (Haas edition)
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD05003 (2 disks) (DDD) TT: 85:45

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E flat "Symphony of a Thousand."
Sylvia Greenberg, Lynne Dawson and Sally Matthews, sopranos; Sophie Koch and Elena Manistina, altos; Robert Gambill, tenor; Detlef Roth, baritone; Jan-Hendrick Rootering, bass; Berlin Radio Chorus; MDR Leipzig Radio Chorus; Windsbacher Childrens' Choir; Berlin Symphony Orch/Kent Nagano, cond.
HYPERION SACD HMC 801858/9 (2 disks) TT: 88:15

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor "Song of the Night."
San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.

It seems odd that the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra would chose include Bernard Haitink's February 2005 performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in their live recordings series. His fine 1969 Philiips recording, which in 1994 was issued in a 9 CD mid-price set along with all of the other symphonies of the composer, is about to be reissued at budget price. This RCOA Live set has a hefty list price of about $27. Haitink's recording of the same work with the Vienna Philharmonic is still available at mid-price. No question, this new issue is a powerful performance—and a leisurely one as well—about ten minutes longer than the 1960 version. Haitink's interpretation offers remarkable attention to detail and boasts outstanding sonics—we are right inside the magnificent Concertgebouw, an ideal place to be. As this performance requires two disks, it seems strange another Haitink live performance wasn't included—more than an hour of music easily could have been accommodated and, at this price, welcome.

Kent Nagano has to his credit brilliant recordings of Messiaen's Saint François D'assisi, Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, music by Adams and Bernstein as well as more standard repertory (his SACD recordings of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3, and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Violin Concerto are reviewed on this site). Based on this recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Nagano has little affinity for music of Gustav Mahler.This performance never reaches the inspired level of interpretations by Stokowski, Mitropoulos, Haitink, Chailly and many others. Soloists are reasonably good, but a major problem with this recording is the reproduction. Balances are askew, with distant soloists, and a sound perspective of being seated in the last row of the concert hall. Orchestral sound is undefined, in spite of the potential of SACD. With a list price of more than $34 and no filler, this two-disk is not competitive with its surround sound rivals, Sir Colin Davis on RCA SACD (REVIEW), and Riccardo Chailly on Decca DVD audio (REVIEW).

Michael Tilson Thomas's Mahler cycle continues with this issue of Symphony No. 7 recorded during live performances in San Francisco's Davis Symphony Hall March 9-12, 2005. This site has praised his recordings of symphonies 1, 2, 3, 6 and 9 (but not the less satisfactory Symphony No. 4). This new release of one of the most problematic Mahler symphonies disappoints both musically and sonically. Thomas recorded this symphony with the London Symphony for RCA in November 1997 in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall, issued in a two-CD set (63510) because playing time was a tad more than 81 minutes (although the two disks sold for the price of one). This new version is about three minutes quicker (about one minute less each for movements 1, 2 and 4) enabling it to be accommodated on a single disk. However, this highly episodic work doesn't hold together in MTT's unfocused reading. We hear acoustics of a resonant, large concert hall, but the SFSO's strings, so fine on their other Mahler recordings, here are quite undernourished, and brass lacks bite and definition. My favorite Mahler Seventh remains the stunning Bernard Haitink/RCOA live performance recorded Christmas Day 1985 available on Philips (464 321), a 9 disk set that also features symphonies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 9.

R.E.B. (October 2005)