Mahler Symphony No. 8 transcribed by David Briggs

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LABELS: Pro Organo
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 (transcr. Briggs)
PERFORMER: Oratorio Society of New York; Manhattan School of Music; David Briggs (organ)/Kent Tritle


‘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.


Paul Riley