Mahler: Symphony No. 8

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Jane Eaglen, Anne Schwanewilms, Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Sara Fulgoni, Anna Larsson (contralto), Ben Heppner (tenor), Peter Mattei (baritone), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass); Prague Philharmonic Choir, Netherlands Radio Choir, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Ri
CATALOGUE NO: 467 314-2
Chailly’s interpretation is a crucial few minutes too long to qualify for the single-disc status which Decca’s earlier classic, theatrically presented by Solti and team, now enjoys – and there’s no companion-piece of lesser stature to shine an interesting light on Mahler as there have been in other instalments of this cycle. Of course a work of such costly fabric as this can’t be measured in minutes; but it might have been a different story if Chailly hadn’t played careful with his choirs in the hymn to the creator-spirit and ignored the impetuoso of Mahler’s opening Allegro. Better things soon light the way, with Boschian creatures and Grünewald angels flitting round the heavy Baroque altar; and the latest state-of-the-art recording, while sometimes leaving soloists cloaked in odd acoustics that don’t sound much like the warm auditorium of the Concertgebouw, makes sure massed forces hit their most resplendent targets.

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As Mahler undergoes Goethe’s more painstaking journey from earthly mystery to heavenly heights in Part 2, Chailly’s broadest passages drive home the yearning for epiphany of his bass and tenor soloists; the superhuman phrasing of Rootering and Heppner certainly allows for it. On paper, this looked like the finest roster of world-class singers currently available, a match for Solti’s Wagnerian team; so it’s a pity to report Eaglen sounding stressed in the upper register, almost embarrassingly eclipsed by the luminous dovetailing of rising star Anne Schwanewilms’s fellow soprano. Otherwise, the torch of the eternal feminine passes confidently among the soloists to culminate in a final apotheosis of brilliance and depth unsurpassed even by the previous Decca spectacular. David Nice