Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) - Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

Performance 30th April

Part two of my epic music weekend in Hamburg was a visit at the prestigious Elbphilharmonie with one of the greatest symphonies of all time and a piece that definitely earns the designation epic. Before I will talk about the concert itself I want to say a few words about the hall and its acoustics. Much has been written about it and still you have to get your own impression about the sound of the new Elbphilharmonie. No doubt it is an incredibly spectacular building and I spent two hours before the concert to discover much of it. The hall looks marvelous and is definitely an eyecatcher (as well as the view from the several floors (11th to 16th floor to be exact)). Acoustically I was not as disappointed as I originally expected. The acoustics are really cold and mercilessly clear. In addition to this extreme clarity (which unfortunately does not create a homogenous consonance) the music often sounds strangely choppend and phrases are torn apart. So in the end, the acoustics are not as bad as some reports made me expect, but they definitely are rather difficult for the ensemble because they are not very supportive.
However, the concert itself was simply great and probably the best performance of the piece I ever heard live. Due to the illness of Kent Nagano, Eliahu Inbal took over the lead of the concert. With his more than 80 years he still brought so much energy and power into the performance that it was really impressive. Being a Mahler specialist, he pointed out many great details of the magnificent score and led the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg to simply glorious performance. The huge orchestra did a wonderful job and played with intense passion as well as a nice balance between the different instrument groups.
The choirs (Chor der Hamburgischen Staatsoper, Hamburger Alsterspatzen & Staatlicher Akademischer Chor Latvija) also sounded wonderfully balanced and had a great range from absolutely silent to powerful forte. Especially during the famous chorus mysticus they showed great harmony and gave a ravishing performance.
The several soloists were very well cast as well and featured wonderful voices. The sopranos (Sarah Wegener, Jacquelyn Wagner & Heather Engebretson) combined powerful clear top registers with a very beautiful warm timbre.
Daniela Sindram and Dorottya Láng sang the two mezzo parts with their strong dark voices and were a great contrast to the sopranos. The tenor part was sung by Burkhard Fritz who did a great job once again. He did not show any fear of the high tessitura and managed his part without any problems.
Kartal Karagedik and Wilhelm Schwinghammer sang the two low voice parts and also met the high niveau of the performance. Karagedik's baritone voice has a heroic, sonorous timbre while Schwinghammer convinced with his dark and elegant bass voice.
As I already mentioned the performance was brilliant and I was really touched by this glorious work. I definitely can say that this was the best Mahler 8th I ever heard and therefor I can definitely give 9 stars to this marvelous performance in the new Elbphilharmonie.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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