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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #8 in E Flat Major
"Symphony of a Thousand"

  • Christine Brewer
  • Saile Isokoski
  • Juliane Banse
  • Birgit Remmert
  • Jane Henschel
  • Jon Villars
  • David Wilson-Johnson
  • John Relyea
London Symphony Chorus
Toronto Children's Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI Classics 5 57945-2 78m DDD
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We have been waiting for this recording for years and now that it is here, one can safely say that it is indeed a masterpiece of the first order. Simon Rattle understands the Mahler idiom like no one alive now and his grasp of the work harks back to the greatness of Bernstein and Solti before him. However all is presented in a stunning sonic package with a superb team of soloists and choirs not to mention an orchestra on absolute top form and the whole is indeed a disc that will remain treasured for many years to come.

Mahler's monumental composition is one of the greatest challenges in classical music and for me it will always remain the work which I most identify with. In fact it launched my critical career way back in July 1995 when I attended the memorable First Night of the Proms Concert given by Sir Andrew Davis in a performance that I will always treasure. Reviewing this new Rattle recording is indeed a career turned full circle as the performance breathes perfection from almost every bar.

The 'Veni Creator Spiritus' sets the pace with admirable energy throughout. The recording reveals all those fascinating little details such as lithe strings, crystal clear woodwinds and some pungent brass parts not to mention the fantastic concluding part, 'Gloria patri domino' in which soloists and choir are incredibly in tune, one of the gargantuan feats of this hugely difficult movement.

However the real 'stars and planets revolving' lie in the massive Second Movement that is almost a symphony unto itself. Rattle adopts a slowish pace to the first twenty minutes or so of this piece but he speeds up towards the end to create that mood of irresistible momentum that leads to the great finale where the music reaches heights of incredible power and magnificent beauty. One really has nothing else to write after those last abrs die away, it is a feeling that is completely unique to music.

Rattle's soloists are excellent with Julianne Banse proving a truly outstanding find as a soprano of exquisite voice. There is little else to add here and you must definitely let the music do the talking. "There are no longer human voices but planets and suns revolving". This is the greatest symphony ever composed and Rattle has produced its finest recording that will serve as a beacon to all for eternity.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech