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Abbado brings drama to his Mahler


Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8, Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, soloists Cheryl Studer, Sylvia McNair, Andrea Rost, Anne Sofie von Otter, Rosemarie Lang, Peter Seiffert, Bryn Terfel, Jan-Hendrik Rootering and the choruses of Radio Berlin, the Prague Philharmonic and the Tolzer Boys Choir (Deutsche Grammophon 445 843-2)

Claudio Abbado made his reputation as a Mahler conductor several years ago in a superb cycle for this label of the nine symphonies with the orchestras of London, Chicago and Vienna. His new cycle for DG with the Berlin Philharmonic, however, has sometimes been disappointing. But the Italian conductor's new recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 re-establishes his credentials as a Mahler interpreter of distinction. Abbado unerringly draws all the strings of this sometimes rambling work together (its nickname, "The Symphony of a Thousand," derives from Mahler's own first performance, which used more than 1,000 instrumentalists and singers). Abbado is wonderful in conveying the dramatic contrasts in its two huge movements, its haunting tenderness, its searing intensity and its exuberant joy. Compared to Klaus Tennstedt's superb recording for EMI, which used a smallish chorus, Abbado uses very large forces. But he secures splendid singing from the massed choirs, and achieves precision of ensemble as well as urgency and dynamism.


Jean Sibelius, Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5, Colin Davis conducting the Boston Symphony (Philips 446 157-2); Jean Sibelius, Symphonies Nos. 3, 6, 7, Violin Concerto, "Finlandia," "Tapiola," and "The Swan of Tuonela," Davis conducting the Boston Symphony in Symphonies Nos. 1-7 and the tone poems, and Davis conducting the London Symphony in the Violin Concerto, with Salvatore Accardo as soloist (Philips 446 160-2)

These budget-priced reissues -- about $30 in most stores -- number among the great bargains in the catalog. These recordings were made in the 1970s and helped to establish Davis' reputation as more than a specialist in Mozart and Berlioz. The performances of the symphonies are among the best ever made. Davis does not conduct these works with the passion and volatility of an Ashkenazy, but his honest, straightforward interpretations are free of bombast and volatility. Like Szell, Toscanini and Monteux in their different ways, Davis has a knack for penetrating Sibelius' often enigmatic and black world with sensitivity. The 1979 performance of the Violin Concerto with Accardo remains among the best on records. As in Davis' performances of the symphonies and the tone poems, Accardo does not play to the gallery and does not indulge in schmaltz; but there is an abundance of aristocratic refinement, genuine repose and nobility in the slow movement and plenty of kinetic excitement in the finale. You won't find so much good Sibelius, at so cheap a price, as on these Philips discs.


To hear the "Allegro Impetuoso" of Mahler's Symphonie No. 8, by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

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