Mahler’s symphonies are at risk of becoming everyday entertainments rather than gala occasions thanks to every conductor with a penchant for late Romantic repertoire anxiously wanting a go. With an over abundance on the market I’m tempted to call for a moratorium despite my sad addiction.
The Eighth is notoriously difficult to capture on disc. Jonathan Nott’s clear-headed, unsentimental approach might work in the concert hall where sheer physicality would carry all before it but it doesn’t register so well here. Part I needs broader tempi for transitions to make sense Despite Nott’s textural clarity it risks degenerating into “all sound and fury signifying nothing” not helped by a slightly cloudy recording. His firm grip works better holding together the sprawling structure of Part II but his reluctance to stop and smell the roses lets key moments pass by.
Cool modernist dissection may work in the other symphonies but the Eighth is the most blatantly theatrical; Part II is an operatic finale in disguise. Strangely both recording and performance click into focus for the conclusion and one is finally swept away in a blaze of glory – if only we’d had some of that rapture earlier. With an un-starry but competent array of soloists and slick work from choir and orchestra this makes an adequate conclusion to a fine cycle. But this music deserves more than adequate.