Watching this performance of Mahler 8 really made me wish that I had been there - the performance is tremendous. Unfortunately, however, the blu-ray is not. Jarvi's ongoing Mahler cycle has been heavily criticised for the quality of the video. If I hadn't read such reviews, I probably wouldn't have noticed anything amiss, but it's true that the pictures are not as pin-sharp as the best of current releases, although still very good. My real problem, as with the blu-ray of the 2nd symphony, is the sound. Everything is fine in the quieter sections, but when things get louder the orchestral sound takes on a muddy, blurry quality, lacking in impact. Likewise the chorus sounds like it's a long way away, and again, there's a serious lack of impact in the climaxes. There is also a very disappointing lack of bottom in the sound of the organ. Just after I'd watched the 8th, I happened to watch two of the Trailers included on the disc - for Thielemann's Bruckner 8 and Andris Nelsons' Also Sprach Zarathustra. The immediate difference in the sound was incredible - and proved to me that the problem was definitely with the recording of the Mahler, and not with my speakers or my ears! And there's certainly no lack of bottom with Nelsons' organ!
Jarvi has one of the best teams of soloists that I've ever heard in this work. If there's going to be a real weak link, it's usually the tenor. When Claudio Abbado cancelled his much-awaited Lucerne performances, the word on the street was that they couldn't secure a tenor that the maestro thought could do it justice, or, to put it another way, Jonas Kaufmann wasn't available! Nikolai Schukoff makes a pretty ropy start in Part 1, but pulls it together in Part 2 - finishing off with a rendition of "Blicket Auf" that is very good indeed. Contralto Charlotte Hellekant isn't great, but the other soloists are all excellent.
The Seventh Symphony is also a tremendous performance, and here the sound is much better, if perhaps not quite in the demonstration class. I wouldn't rate it quite as highly as Claudio Abbado's Lucerne version, but it's not far off.
The Video direction is the usual mixture of close-ups of Jarvi, singers or players, with the occasional long-shot. However the close-ups aren't always where you want them. There's one horn player who for some reason gets more close-ups in the eighth symphony than the rest of the orchestra put together, often when he's not doing anything particularly special.
The booklet states that the eighth symphony was recorded in the Kloster Eberbach, but this is wrong - it was in the Grosses Saal of the Alte Oper in Frankfurt. Another small niggle is that the only option on the main menu is "Play Symphonies" - if you just want to listen to no 8, you have to skip through no 7, or fiddle around with the pop-up menu. Shoddy job, Unitel.
I'm giving this three stars - which is the average of four stars for the seventh symphony and two for the eighth. It's really a great shame that what could have been a great (or at least very good) cycle on blu-ray has been ruined by poor recording.
Technical details - 24-bit PCM Stereo and DTS-HD MA5.1
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