Five stars seem hardly enough to rate the technical qualities of this disc. The picture quality is as sharp and clear as you could wish, but it is the phenomenal sound which almost beggars description. This is demonstration quality sound par excellence - a valuable plus point in a recording of this work. Abbado's 2003 Lucerne performance sounds spectacular, and still holds its own sonically against its rivals, but the improvements in recording technology over the intervening period have been exploited to astonishing effect on this disc.
But what of the performance itself?
Chailly uses a larger choir than Abbado, and the choral singing is as good as on the Abbado disc, but whereas Chailly's choir look like any choir one might see at a concert, Abbado's singers are dressed in monk-like robes and are more rigid and austere in their movements, adding to the almost religious feel of his performance.
The soloists on the Chailly disc adopt a more dramatic style than those on the Abbado disc, which suits Chailly's dramatic interpretation. In contrast, Abbado's soloists are more ethereal, stressing beauty over drama. For example, at the end of the first and second verses of the Aufersteh'n hymn, the voice of Abbado's soprano (Eteri Gvazava) soars effortlessly out of the choral background, whereas Christiane Oeize's entrance on the Chailly disc is much more evident and emphatic.
Chailly pauses (and moves off the podium) at the end of the first movement, in line with Mahler's instructions - it is at this point that the two soloists come onstage.
In the first three movements there is little to chose between Chailly and Abbado. Sarah Connolly(Chailly) and Anna Larsson (Abbado) are both good in the brief "Urlicht" movement, Larsson adopting a slightly more tender delivery.
The start of the last movement is almost literally shattering in the Chailly performance, more effective than in the Abbado performance not least because of the sound quality on the Chailly disc. From here on however I feel that Abbado captures more magic in the music as the "redemption" themes are introduced - he molds the phrases more than Chailly, whose approach to the music is a little more straightforward. This difference is enhanced by the filming: in the Abbado there are consciously constructed fade shots and soft focus effects at key points in the music (when the offstage brass first make their entry, for example) which suit Abbado's more spiritual interpretation. The camera work in the Chailly is more straightforward - this is a record of a concert performance.
Again, the state of the art sound enhances Chailly's ending of the symphony, but (that apart) there is little to choose here between Chailly and Abbado, with the latter perhaps conveying a little more "release of joy" at the very end.
The Chailly performance is magnificent by any standard (and unmatched in sound quality). Its obvious rival on disc is the Abbado Lucerne performance - also magnificent. Buy both, for their different approaches to the symphony. When you want to be thrilled go with Chailly, but when you want to be moved choose Abbado.