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  1. #1
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    SF Symphony's New Mahler CD/SACD is out!

    Regulars on this board know that I've been praising the San Francisco Symphony's Mahler series for years. The orchestra and maestro Michael Tilson Thomas rank among the top Mahler ensembles in the world right now. This recording series features great performances along with top notch recordings done in multichannel 5.1 DSD. As a regular patron at Davies Symphony Hall, I can say that the 5.1 surround recordings are an excellent representation of the live experience -- much more so than the stereo tracks, which already sound great in their own right.

    Well, all good things come to an end, and the SF Symphony's release of Mahler's massive Symphony No. 8 (the Symphony of a Thousand) completes their Mahler cycle. As usual, the release comes on a hybrid CD/SACD, with the SACD layer featuring both two-channel and 5.1 mixes.

    I'd already started a thread on this performance after I attended one of the recording sessions last November. Mahler's Eighth is a massive piece that can absolutely overwhelm an orchestra and conductor not up to the task, but the SF Symphony rose to the occasion and delivered a masterful performance. My post includes some pictures taken from my seat at Davies Hall.

    WOW! SF Symphony Final Mahler Recording: Pics and Views



    Also, the SF Symphony posted a YouTube video that documents the rehearsal and recording sessions for their Mahler Symphony No. 8 release.



    With all that aside, does this new release measure up to the masterful performance that they delivered live? Yes and no.

    Overall, I think that the performance captures the overwhelming scale of the piece, while also delivering some interesting interpretations of the quirkier and more subtle passages in the second movement. It has to be more interpretive compared to some of the other performances of Mahler's Eighth because the SF Symphony is playing a scaled down arrangement. It's not like the Chicago Symphony's legendary 1971 recording that featured a double-sized orchestra and full choruses with nearly 900 total players on stage. The SFS had to make due with "only" about 500 performers. Even with the more limited numbers, they still do justice to a great piece.

    Where things seem to fall just a bit short of perfection is in the recording. For whatever reason, the mixing on the chorus has inconsistencies galore. It seems that the levels are all over the place, and I don't recall so much variation during the live performance. The SFS recording of Mahler's Second, which has a similarly grand orchestration, seemed more consistent and conveyed a better balance overall. Granted, Mahler's Eighth is a far more complex piece, with multiple choral sections.

    Also, compared to the Chicago Symphony performance, it sounds somewhat confined acoustically, but to that I will blame Davies Hall, which lacks the warmth and resonance that other concert halls have.

    Otherwise, the tonality of the recording is more of the same -- excellence all the way around. Seems that they did a bit more post-production on this piece, but the results are pretty good.

    So, overall a very nice finale to a stellar recording series. It's probably not the one that I would recommend for a Mahler newbie. To that end, I would recommend the SF Symphony's releases of Symphony No. 1 (probably Mahler's most conventional symphony, and a great performance and recording by the SFS), or No. 2, which has an absolutely stunning and inspiring finale that will also test the mettle of any audio system.
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  2. #2
    Man of the People Forums Moderator bobsticks's Avatar
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    Woochie, danke for the review. I've been enjoying the rest of the cycle and I'll have to look for this, as well. It'll be interesting to compare against the famed Solti version.

    As an aside, if you get a chance to check out the 2 disc SACD version of "Tragic" from the Benjamin Zander Philharmonic definetely do so. If you'd like a lo-fi trial copy lemme know...good stuff.

    Thanks again.

  3. #3
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobsticks
    Woochie, danke for the review. I've been enjoying the rest of the cycle and I'll have to look for this, as well. It'll be interesting to compare against the famed Solti version.

    As an aside, if you get a chance to check out the 2 disc SACD version of "Tragic" from the Benjamin Zander Philharmonic definetely do so. If you'd like a lo-fi trial copy lemme know...good stuff.

    Thanks again.
    Y'velcome.

    I stay away from the board for a few weeks, and next thing you know sticks is a MOD?! Crazy!

    It's definitely interesting to compare the Solti and MTT versions. Solti had the advantage of a much larger venue (with no audience), and 400 extra performers, plus the legendary CSO brass section. The Solti version also featured the pipe organ much more prominently. I know that the Davies Hall organ can belt out the registers at all octaves very loudly, but for whatever reason MTT chose to keep the organ accompaniment more subdued.

    But, the new SFS recording has more moments of "warmth" and subtlety, which definitely departs from from the Solti and Bernstein versions that I'm more familiar with. All I can say is that this recording, aside from some of the odd mixing with the choruses, is representative of the live performance.

    Now that the SFS Mahler series is finished, I'm tempted to begin sampling the London Symphony's Mahler SACD series. That cycle is not yet done, but I am curious about their interpretation of Symphony No. 2 and No. 8 in particular. I only recently started listening to Mahler's epic Second (the Resurrection symphony) again, and was just blown away by the SFS' playing in the 4th and 5th finale movements (their playing in the first three movements is flat and uninvolving, which is probably why I hadn't listened to that piece very much).

    I've kinda overlooked the Zander Mahler SACD series because of my preoccupation with the MTT/SFS series. I'd definitely want to see how any other version of Mahler's "Tragic" Sixth compares.

    The SF Symphony's performance of the Sixth is probably their high water mark in the Mahler series because it was recorded on 9/12/01 -- basically, the first major public event in San Francisco after 9/11. I heard that there wasn't a dry eye inside Davies Hall after the orchestra opened with the national anthem, and then proceeded to launch right into the Tragic symphony.

    I'd seen the SFS perform the Sixth symphony live a few years earlier, and the recorded version easily blows away the performance I attended. The orchestra just sounds possessed and laser focused beyond anything I'd heard from them before (precision and focus aren't normally the SFS' strengths). This steely focus seemed to carry over to their performances of Mahler's First which was recorded a few days afterwards.
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  4. #4
    Audio/HT Nut version 1.3a
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    Thanks, very nice thread. Coincidentally, I just read a review in Sound & Vision Magazine. Robert Ripps also praised this SACD release with five stars for both performance and SACD Mix.

  5. #5
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RoadRunner6
    Thanks, very nice thread. Coincidentally, I just read a review in Sound & Vision Magazine. Robert Ripps also praised this SACD release with five stars for both performance and SACD Mix.
    Wow! Thanx for the tip, I might actually buy myself a copy of that rag, which I haven't read in at least a couple of years!
    Wooch's Home Theater 2.0 (Pics)
    Panasonic VIERA TH-C50FD18 50" 1080p
    Paradigm Reference Studio 40, CC, and 20 v.2
    Adire Audio Rava (EQ: Behringer Feedback Destroyer DSP1124)
    Yamaha RX-V800
    Dual CS5000 (Ortofon OM30 Super)
    Denon DVD-758 (DVD-1940ci)
    Sony Playstation 3 (MediaLink OS X Server)
    Sony ES SCD-C2000ES
    JVC HR-S3912U
    Directv HR22
    Oppo Digital HM-31
    Logitech Harmony 650
    iPad 3


    The Neverending DVD/BD Collection

    Subwoofer Setup and Parametric EQ Results *Dead Link*

  6. #6
    Audio/HT Nut version 1.3a
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    It's a short review. If you want to save the $5.00 or so, send me an e-mail or PM and I'll send you the text.

    RR6

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