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SACD Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #8 "Symphony of A Thousand"

  • Barbara Haveman (soprano), Magna Peccatrix
  • Orla Boylan (soprano)
  • Christiane Oelze (soprano), Una Poenitentium
  • Anna Palimina (soprano), Mater Gloriosa
  • Petra Lang (mezzo soprano), Mulier Samaritana
  • Maria Radner (alto), Maria Aegyptiaca
  • Brandon Jovanovich (tenor), Doctor Marianus
  • Hanno Müller-Brachmann (baritone), Pater Ecstaticus
  • Günther Groissböck (bass), Pater Profundus
Mädchen und Knaben der Chöre Kölner Dom
Chor des Bach-Vereins Köln
Domkantorei Köln
Philharmonischer Chor der Stadt Bonn
Vokalensemble Kölner Dom
Gurzenich Orchestra Cologne/Markus Stenz
Oehms OC653 77m Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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Markus Stenz has been garnering excellent reviews for his ongoing Mahler symphony cycle, which includes the first five symphonies. This Eighth will surely continue that trend. At seventy-seven minutes, this is a very brisk account of the work, and as far as I am concerned that's all to the good. This is mostly a bright triumphant symphony, not a solemn sacred work to be pondered and plumbed for its Mahlerian angst. Stenz shapes the orchestral playing and choral singing brilliantly, showing he is alert to just about every subtlety in the scoring. Listen to how he builds the music with a sense of struggle and anticipation for the return of the Veni Creator Spiritus in the first movement. Notice how Stenz infuses the music with tension and mystery in the opening of the second movement, or how he achieves such power and majesty from both the orchestra and singers in the endings of both movements. The Accende lumen sensibus in the first movement comes across with an ecstatic energy in its celestial sweep. Indeed, and in the livelier sections in general, the music often seems to jump off the page and right out of the speakers at you. The solo singers come across with both passion and commitment throughout; the various choruses sing with kinetic energy and vivid color; and the orchestra plays with such spirit and accuracy. On the whole, this performance makes other reasonably good efforts sound comparatively timid, almost flaccid.

Notable among the excellent soloists here is Barbara Haveman, who sings with beauty, intelligence, and even a sense of adventure, challenging one of my previous favorite sopranos in this symphony, Deborah Voigt, who appeared in Robert Shaw's fine account on Telarc. I must caution the listener about one facet of this recording and that is its sound reproduction: while it is very clear and effective in both stereo and multi-channel, you may have to crank the volume up considerably, as it was apparently recorded at a very low level. But this is minor factor in the overall excellence of the sonics provided by Oehms for this SACD.

Among the many splendid Mahler Eighths there are the first Bernstein (Sony), Wit (Naxos), Solti (Decca), Chailly (Accentus DVD and Blu-ray), and the aforementioned Shaw. This one by Markus Stenz may well sit atop that esteemed heap. It's that good. And to top things off, because it is a fairly brisk performance, it fits on one disc, unlike most other recordings of the Mahler Eighth. Incidentally, nine vocal soloists are listed by Oehms for this performance, while the score calls for eight. There appears to be an extra soprano for some reason. Anyway, this is a major triumph. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings