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Ionarts-at-Large: Mahler's 8th at the Tyrolean Festival 2008

It is impossible for a performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony not to be an event. Even as Mahler performances become commonplace among the better orchestras, the Eighth is by far the least often performed – simply because the logistics are so forbidding. Even if a thousand choristers and musicians are not gathered as at the 1910 premiere (a fact that inspired impresario Emil Gutmann to the catchy nickname “Symphony of a Thousand”), a good three hundred performers still need to be assembled (and paid) to tackle this symphonic behemoth. The Eighth is unlike any of his other works, it isn’t the favorite Mahler-Symphony of “Mahlerians” by a long shot (Iván Fischer, for example, has said he’d not complete a Symphonic cycle, simply because he’d not feel inclined to conduct that work), and some find its particular brand of overt emotionality more embarrassing than uplifting.

Yet, whenever it is actually played, lovers of Mahler and lovers of spectacle will turn out. And so they did on July 13th for a performance at the Tyrolean Festival in Innsbruck, Austria where Gustav Kuhn conducted his Festival Orchestra & Chorus, assembled from the greater region of Tyrol, South-Tyrol and Austria’s eastern neighbors.

Kuhn, who has landed many a coup at his Festival with ambitious projects (complete Ring Cycles since 2003, for example), didn’t preside over a polished, much less perfect performance of course. But given the material he had at hand, the result was a joyous success with the choirs performing particularly splendidly. The entry for “Veni, veni creator spiritus” was full-throttle excitement, especially for the tenor and bass sections.

The soloists were predictably a variable bunch: Bass Andrea Silvestrelli, the most experienced of the bunch, like a booming bear in a barrel, was easily audible even in the lowest register, but the voice uncontrolled and unpleasantly sloppy. Tenor Tenor Jürgen Mülluer was strained to the edges of his ability and beyond. But baritone Michael Kupfer and the female soloists were all fine – notably soprano Arpiné Rahdjian with a voice of promising potential, even if she needed (and got) help at high ranges.

Violas and brass had some very felicitous moments in the opening of Part Two – and the keystone moment – the Chorus Mysticus was done with great care. Excellently calm the opening of “Alles Vergängliche…” and rousing, unabashedly bombastic the final climax. As a performance hardly beyond criticism; as an event a spectacular success.

___Recommended recording:

available at AmazonMahler, Symphony No.8, Ozawa / BPO - Tanglewood

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