Mahler: Symphony No. 8

WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Barbara Kubiak, Izabela K?osi´nska, Marta Boberska (soprano), Jadwiga Rappé, Ewa Marciniec (mezzo-soprano), Timothy Bentch (tenor), Wojtek Drabowicz (baritone), Piotr Nowacki (bass); Polish Radio Choir, Kraków; Cardinal Stefan Wyszy´nski University Choir;
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550533-34
Naxos introduced us to the first-rate Mahlerian credentials of Polish conductor Antoni Wit back in the early 1990s. Comparing those releases with this enterprising Mahler 8, it seems he achieved more comprehensive results with his orchestra in Katowice, which he left in 2000, than he has so far in Warsaw. Here, admittedly, there are, if not a thousand, then at least quite a few things to go wrong on such a massive scale. Wit’s fine style in balancing expressive lines is evident throughout, but the recording is against him. Avoiding overload, it leaves the splendid Polish choirs to fend for themselves in the middle distance, and the quieter orchestral passages need more help with presence.


The real stumbling-block is the brave line-up of mostly Polish soloists. We’ve been spoilt, perhaps, by starry casts on the top-notch Rattle and Solti recordings, but you certainly need supermen, at least, in the early stages of the second movement; neither Wojtek Drabowicz’s Pater Ecstaticus nor Piotr Nowacki’s Pater Profundus have the necessary heft for the extremes of joy and sorrow, and it was cruel to stretch a musicianly Mozart tenor, Timothy Bentch, on Mahler’s heldentenor rack. There are no sweet songbirds among the ladies, either, until the distant balm of Marta Boberska’s Mater Gloriosa. They’re all much better bringing expressive surges to a sensitive vocal ensemble in the first movement; and when everything comes together again for the final journey upwards with the eternal feminine, Wit pulls out all the stops; admirers of this ever more fascinating work might splash out just for that sequence alone. David Nice