Mahler Symphony No. 8 transcribed by David Briggs

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Pro Organo
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 (transcr. Briggs)
PERFORMER: Oratorio Society of New York; Manhattan School of Music; David Briggs (organ)/Kent Tritle
CATALOGUE NO: CD 7276

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‘Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound,’ observed Mahler of his Eighth Symphony. In this singular performance there are times such as the end of Part I when the vibrato, a mile high and a mile deep, turns Mahler’s words into actuality. Singular? Well, Mahler’s engorged symphonic hymn to the possibility of redemption might open with a mighty organ pedal note, but here the instrument consumes all before it, corralling a supersized score including quadruple woodwind, mandolin and cowbells within the capabilities of two hands and feet.

If David Briggs’s very attempt to transcribe this work seems quixotic – even after having previously transcribed Symphonies Nos 2, 3, 5 and 6 – it also has to be conceded that it’s done decidedly well. Moreover he has the unbridled virtuosity, ear for colour and sheer panache to pull it off – abetted by the myriad possibilities of St John the Divine’s Skinner organ, which sounds quite magnificent as it receives the workout of a lifetime. Recorded live at a premiere conducted with compelling fervour by Kent Tritle, the vocal contributions are something of a mixed bag, but the main obstacle is the far-flung sound picture which (unavoidably) resembles a billowing dirigible that has become partially untethered, ducking and weaving in the gusts. Not an everyday Mahler Eight, but in its own way, still something of a triumph.

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Paul Riley