MAHLER Symphony No. 8 • Georg Solti, cond; Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger (sop); Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts (alt); René Kollo (ten); John Shirley-Quirk (bar); Martti Talvela (bs); Vienna St Op Ch; Vienna Singverein; Vienna Sängerknaben; Chicago SORead more • DECCA 002894785006 (Blu-ray audio: 79:38 Text and Translation)
Georg Solti’s Decca recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony has received nearly universal critical acclaim, both for Solti’s performance and its sound. The “Symphony of a Thousand” may be the most difficult piece of music to record in a way that remotely resembles what you would hear live in a concert hall. The engineer must not only contend with a huge orchestra and massive choral forces. There are eight solo voices and at least some of them sing almost constantly from beginning to end. The extremely vocal score makes it difficult to balance all of the performers in a realistic manner. The soloists are typically miked so closely that you have difficulty hearing on a recording what is happening in the critically important orchestra, and the massive choruses can easily drown everyone out. Yet it works in the concert hall because of Mahler’s skill in deploying his massive forces. In fact, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is a work that invariably makes an infinitely greater impression when heard live than it does on a recording.
The same is also true of this recording, even though it is probably sonically superior to any other version. That is hardly surprising when you realize that Kenneth Wilkinson and Gordon Parry are the engineers. This is a great recording, especially considering the difficulties involved, but it is far from perfect. The orchestra and chorus have unprecedented dynamic impact from top to bottom, and there is more fine inner detail than on any other recording. The sound effectively showcases Mahler’s ability to create music that is exquisitely intimate in detail and massive in scope in the same work. The wall of sound at the end of the first movement is adequately but not completely contained without much congestion or collapse of the soundstage, and the finale is nearly ideal with, for once, a perfectly balanced and extremely powerful organ. The principal problem involves the soloists. They are, even here, miked a little too closely to permit accurate balancing of all of the performing forces. At one point, René Kollo sounds louder than the hundreds of other performers playing full blast. A live concert simply does not sound that way.
These comments apply to the British Decca LP pressing. The CD versions possess more clarity, but at the cost of ferocious high frequencies that sometimes make the soloists sound almost unbearable at full room volume. This is essentially the same problem that plagued the standard CD versions of the Solti Ring and other Decca operas with otherwise excellent sound.
The sonic differences between this Blu-ray audio disc and previous CD editions are immediately apparent with the opening organ chords and chorus. There is a vast sense of space. The focal imaging of the soloists and chorus is improved. There is increased detail, especially in the orchestra, where low-level information is completely audible for the first time. Make no mistake though, the recording is hot on the high end, much more so than is usually the case with Wilkinson. Blu-ray audio does not so much suppress those aggressive highs, but the increased spatial information makes them more tolerable. The massive climaxes of the first movement are contained with admirable clarity. The balance between the orchestra, chorus, and organ is most impressive in the Chorus mysticus and orchestral coda.
As for the performance, no one really approaches Solti. The organ and chorus explode at the beginning, and the massive climaxes of Veni, creator spiritus are unprecedented on a recording. The orchestral interlude opening Part Two has searing intensity. As recorded here, Mahler’s delicate orchestration in Part Two is revealed with startling clarity. Solti never lets the music drag or unravel and his urgency holds it together without ever seeming to be episodic, as is sometimes the case. The finale is simply overwhelming. Add to all of that, probably the finest group of soloists ever assembled for this work, and you have arguably the greatest Mahler recording of all time. All of it comes together as never before on this Blu-ray audio disc.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Georg Solti's Mahler Eighth always has stood high on the list of recommendable versions, even for people who don't normally warm to his nervy, high-powered approach to this composer (and just about everyone else as well). A true "sonic spectacular" on LP, the performance originally transferred poorly to CD, where the audio manipulations--the dubbed-in organ part and shifting perspectives of the soloists and offstage brass--were all too obvious. What Decca has achieved in this most recent remastering is a more integrated and natural sound picture, one that allows the listener to focus more on the performance's purely musical qualities, which include an outstanding lineup of soloists (still the best the work has received) and some fabulous playing by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The fact that the performance has been reduced to a single, mid-priced disc is another huge bonus, and for many that may well make this the Mahler Eighth of choice. If I have any reservation at all, it's that the closing pages don't quite ignite the way they should, and do, in versions by Bertini (EMI), Bernstein (Sony), and Horenstein (BBC Classics). However, this is a very minor criticism of an otherwise splendid production.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Reviewing CD version Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand"by Gustav Mahler Performer:
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Arleen Augér (Soprano),
Yvonne Minton (Alto),
Helen Watts (Alto),
René Kollo (Tenor),
Martti Talvela (Bass),
John Shirley-Quirk (Baritone),
Lucia Popp (Soprano)
Sir Georg Solti
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Boys' Choir
Period: Romantic Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 1971 Venue: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Marvelous MahlerNovember 8, 2014By C. Schormann (Eustis, FL)See All My Reviews"This particular performance has always been a favorite of mine. The combination of Chicago , Solti, and Mahler combined for a perfect mix. With the advent of cd, streaming, etc. the LP languished for years in a closet. This was one of the few LPs I did not sell when making the switch to a cd collection. I never thought this recording would be given a new lease on life, but oh-boy has it ever. The Blu-Ray re-do is stunning. I did a comparison with the LP and I could hear more music in a larger soundstage. Some of the original recordings close milking technique was also more apparent, but the overall improvement in reproduction of the performance easily overshadowed this tiny flaw. The opening organ notes and the chorus entrance blew me away. I listened to this disc a number of times and each time I was transported (figuratively) to a concert hall. I sincerely hope that this is the first of many Solti recordings to come. I cannot wait."Report Abuse