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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

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

  • Soprano I (Magna Peccatrix) - Barbara Kubiak
  • Soprano II (Una Poenitentium) - Izabela Kłosińska
  • Soprano III (Mater Gloriosa) - Marta Boberska
  • Alto I (Mulier Samaritana) - Jadwiga Rappé
  • Alto II (Maria Aegyptica) - Ewa Marciniec
  • Tenor (Doctor Marianus) - Timothy Bentch
  • Baritone (Pater Ecstaticus) - Wojciech Drabowicz
  • Bass (Pater Profundis) - Piotr Nowacki
Polish Radio Choir in Kraków/Wlodzimierz Siedlik
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University Choir/Kazimierz Szymonik
The Warsaw Boys Choir/Krzysztof Kusiel-Moroz
Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir/Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Naxos 8.550533-34 2CDs
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Among the many recordings of the Mahler Eighth Symphony, I had always ranked Leonard's Bernstein's old (1960s) Columbia version (not his DG live-concert remake) as the finest ever, the one for the ever-growing competition to beat. It has been reissued by Sony Classics and is apparently still available. Needless to say, there have been many excellent recordings that followed that first Bernstein effort, including the Sinopoli (DG), Solti (Decca), Tennstedt (EMI) and Shaw (Telarc). Now we have this new one on Naxos by the still-underrated Polish conductor Antoni Wit – and it is perhaps the best of the lot. Certainly, if I take sound reproduction into account, the scales clearly tip in the favor of Wit.

But it's hardly just the vivid Naxos sonics that distinguish this effort: Wit's ensemble of singers is excellent, especially the female contingent, led by sopranos Barbara Kubiak and Izabeta Klosinska. The choral groups involved are also splendid. But much of the credit must go to Wit, whose tempos are consistently well-judged and whose sense of drama is keen and insightful: you'll hear all kinds of meaningful detail in this performance – detail often buried in other recordings. Wit's orchestra plays brilliantly for him as well, rounding out one of the finest recordings of anything in recent times. If I had to recommend just one recording of this work to listeners, whether they are familiar or unfamiliar with this symphony, it would be this gorgeous new one on Naxos. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings