G. Mahler, Symphony No.8, Rattle / Birmingham SO
To have thought Mr. Seckerson's review "a tad lobsided" was, as it turned out, a mild understatement. To be sure, the Rattle recording is very fine - and I'd compare it to the famous Solti recording. (That, for most, would be some of the highest praise available. Not so with me, as I don't particularly think that the 'epic' Solti recording is "all that", either.) The contributions of vocalists Brewer, Isokoski, Banse, Remmert, (Jane) Henschel, Villars, Wilson-Johnson and Relyea are certainly more than adequate, but not spine-tingling exceptional. The same can be said about Nagano's Greenberg, Dawson, Matthews, Koch, Manistina, Gambill, Rother and Rootering - the latter a better Pater Profundis than Mr. Releya. But I find Nagano's recording not only not worse (forgive me for the triple negatives) but indeed better than Rattle's. Everyone knows that Gramophone has a pro-British and pro-Rattle bias... but, difference in taste acknowledging, is silly. Did Nagano shoot the editor's dog?
G. Mahler, Symphony No.8, Nagano / Orchestra d.Dt.Opera, Berlin
No other performance captures more of the music's mystery and sensuality, revels in the rich details of its orchestration to such a welcome degree, or offers such a clear and characterful distinction between the work's two parts. [...T]he atmosphere is palpable[...]
That is perhaps one step further than I would go (I still think that the Ozawa recording has the edge on mystery and unearthly shimmer - especially in the Chorus mysticus), but it's very close to how I feel. Nagano does offer that shimmer, that deeper, more mysterious feel, a sound from other spheres - whereas Rattle offers sound from Birmingham Symphony Hall. The prominent organ in Nagano - never overwhelming but far more present than in many other recordings - is a much appreciated touch, too. At 88 minutes (the time it takes him for the second movement is well spent!) it comes on two CD's and is - much to its detriment I think - not priced at a single discs' cost but at over $30. A major mistake on the part of Harmonia Mundi - given that much of the competition comes at the full price for one disc or less.
G. Mahler, Symphony No.8, N.Jaervi / Gotheburg SO
Speaking of sound: on that plane, the Neeme Järvi recording can compete with any - live or studio. It is clear, brilliant even, yet not too bright and it lets in plenty of light. At just about 70 minutes it is the fastest performance I know of - and it is proof that speed has little to do with whether a performance is great or not. I don't hesitate including Järvi's 8th among the great performances on record. The singing is very capable, again, and the orchestral contribution outstanding. Crisp it might be, but it transmitts a sense of greater meaning, of a truly special occasion. Actually, it was performed for a special occasion, namely in honor of the victims of the M/S Estonia tragedy. Perhaps that explains the flawless performance of the orchestra - more than astounding for a one-off performance.
G. Mahler, Symphony No.8, Kubelik / Bavarian Radio SO
Among these four, although none are 'must-haves', Järvi comes out the unexpected 'victor' - but the more I listen to Nagano, the more I cherish his recording. Especially with Ozawa still out of print, this might be worth thinking about, despite its price.