MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E Flat "Symphony of a Thousand"
Both of these DVD Audio disks include a user guide that many may find helpful, clarifying that the default setting for playback is surround sound; should you wish to have stereo the procedure to follow is clearly explained.
Renée Fleming's disk was recorded in The Colosseum, Watford, England July 3-9, 1999. A wide-ranging collection of familiar arias beautifully sung by this magnificent soprano, it has been a best-seller for Decca/London ever since its initial release. Now here it is in multi-channel sound which puts the soprano in a keener aural pespective and adds depth to the overall sound picture. The original stereo sound was superb and if you already own that you may not wish to spend the extra $$$ to have it in 5.1. Complete texts and translations are included. As you listen to these performances, on your television monitor you'll see a photograph of Fleming. There are seven pictures; you'll see each of them twice as there are 14 tracks on the disk. If you have the program set up for subtitles, you'll also see each aria identified. The seven photos also can be seen in the "gallery" on the DVD disk. I don't understand how produces decide which recordings to issue in DVD Audio and/or SACD. Fleming's other multi-channel release "Bel Canto" was recently released on SACD (see REVIEW).
Mahler's gigantic Eighth Symphony, with its huge performing forces, is a natural for multi-channel sound. There is no question that the DVD Audio issue of this recording, made in the Great Concertebouw Hall in January 2000, is superior sonically to what is heard on the regular CD release (see REVIEW). There is more clarity in the massed choral sound, a better sense of space, and the soloists seem to be positioned more exactly. It isn't stated if this actually was recorded for multi-channel; I suspect that it was not. How effective it would have been if extra brass at the conclusion of each of the two movements could have come from the rear. I remember several live performances of this symphony and how electrifying it was to hear the extra brass in the back—a great opportunity missed by the engineers. On screen during the music there are only two bucolic photographs, one for each movement. We also have a chapter with a series of photographs of Chailly, and a discography of some of his recordings, with short musical excerpts as well. This is a sonically impressive issue, with its huge masses of sound and thundering bass.
R.E.B. (January 2004)