DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand” – Live from Caracas (2012)

An astounding concert that surpassed even the "Symphony of a Thousand" subtitle for Mahler's odd choral-symphonic creation.

Published on October 2, 2012

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand” – Live from Caracas (2012)

Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel
Soloists: Manuela Uhl, Julianna de Giacomo, Kiera Duffy, Anna Larsson, Charlotte Hellekant, Burkhard Fritz, Brian Mulligan, Alexander Vinogradov
Other performers: Coro Sinfonico Juvenil Simon Bolivar de Venezuela, Ninos CAntores de Venezuela, Schola Cantorum de Venezuela, Schola Juvenil de Venezuela, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Studio: DGG B0017354-09 [9/25/12]
Video: 16:9 color No region code
Audio: DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Latin, German English, French, Spanish, Chinese
Extras: “Inside the Symphony of a Thousand” (18 min.)
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: *****

This amazing concert was the grand finale of Gustavo Dudamels’ Mahler Cycle, during which he conducted all of the Mahler symphonies with the two orchestras he is closely associated with:  The LA Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Performances took place both in Los Angeles and Caracas, but for this historic concert he combined both symphony orchestras in Caracas, plus many more performers than have probably ever been involved in a performance of Mahler’s Eighth. The various chorus masters actually lost count, but one of them felt that there were close to 1300 individuals in just the chorus alone. (The disc notes claim 1400 individuals total.) This concert was presented in hundreds of theaters in North America as well as South America, and it aired on the state TV channel in Venezuela. It was also performed in Los Angeles, but this Caracas version is said to be far superior.

In spite of the super-ambitious nature of this undertaking, and the huge number of performers involved, the musical values of this performance are very high.  Mahler’s emphasis, as Dudamel explains during the short documentary extra, was on the choral parts of the work. Although there are some moving instrumental passages, it is the rich and enthusiastic sounds of the chorus that makes this an overwhelming experience to see and hear. The eighth is a very strange work—not really a symphony, but not really an oratorio. Its second half with the characters from the Faust legend has always seemed to me a big confusion. The English subtitles are few and far between—probably due to repetition. But somehow with the gargantuan number of performers assembled on the stage —and above and around it—as well as the non-stop enthusiasm of Dudamel himself, it all seems to work. It’s dramatic to the extreme, awe-inspiring, and very moving. I see it’s also available on Blu-ray with even superior surround sonics, but the visual portion looks excellent on the DVD.

There are hi-res SACD versions available by Bernstein, Tilson Thomas, Kubelik, Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink and Kent Nagano, but although some may surpass this one on musical details, I don’t think any can equal the astounding visual aspect of this video production.

—John Sunier




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