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Mahler: Symphony No. 8 "symphony Of A Thousand"

Mahler / Yeend / Westminster Choir
Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  United Classics   Catalog #: 2013008   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Eugene ConleyGeorge LondonCamilla WilliamsUta Graf,   ... 
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Symphony No. 8 Leopold Stokowski, cond; Frances Yeend (sop); Uta Graf (sop); Camilla Williams (sop); Martha Lipton (alt); Louise Bernhardt (alt); Eugene Conley (ten); George London (bs); Westminster Ch; Schola Cantorum; Public School Boys’ Ch; New York P O UNITED 2013008, mono (78:00) Live: New York 4/9/1950

Here is yet another famous historical performance remastered and repackaged. For those who know the recording, little need be said of it. This is one of the greatest performances of Mahler’s most Read more complex and difficult symphony ever given—not quite on the exalted level of Rafael Kubelík’s, though only because it is mono and not stereo. One thing that both performances have in common is outstanding vocal soloists, always the most difficult thing to pull off in performances of this work, particularly in the modern era. Not only do all of these singers have fine voices (Yeend even taking the oft-omitted trill in the first movement), but they also blend well, which is normally more difficult to achieve. Three choruses were used, from Westminster Choir College, the Schola Cantorum, and the Boys’ Chorus of Public School No. 12 in Manhattan, and all sing their little hearts out.

Some reviews of this performance that I’ve read online complain that it almost sounds like two different performances, the first half spirited and lively, the second half slower and almost turgid. I don’t necessarily agree; to me, the second part, which is the final scene of Goethe’s Faust, should be performed more majestically. I don’t like it when the tempo sounds rushed, so for me this performance is just fine in that regard.

The pressing I compared this to was one of the better ones, the version issued by the New York Philharmonic as part of their massive set of historic Mahler performances. The sound on that issue was respectably clean, solid, and fairly good for an old broadcast. This one is much better. The “thump” of the organ opening is surprisingly solid and clear, and the textures of both orchestra and chorus are also clearer. (Is it just me, or does anyone else notice that Frances Yeend’s voice in this performance bears a strong tonal resemblance to that of Zinka Milanov?) As a result of the clearer sound, everything—strings, winds, and brass—sounds much less congested and natural. As a result, this performance is no longer somewhat difficult to discern clearly; everything jumps out at you. Thus I have no hesitation recommending this, despite its mono sound (which I normally steer clear of in any Mahler work), as the finest representation of an historic Mahler Eighth I’ve ever heard.

In passing, I should like to say a few words about the other of the two most famous early Mahler Eighth, the London performance given by Jascha Horenstein in the late 1950s. While I agree that his conducting of the music is absolutely splendid, I’ve yet to hear a pressing of that performance that is in any way clear. The microphone placement, sadly, seems to have been pretty far back, and the soloists placed behind the orchestra with the chorus. As a result, all soft passages are covered by a patina of concert hall ambience and the coughing of various audience members, and the superb soloists—including the rarely-heard but excellent South African soprano Joyce Barker as Magna Peccatrix—sound like distant echoes. A shame, really, because this certainly was an historic Eighth, equal musically and dramatically to the Stokowski version, but unless someone knows of a pressing that magically focuses the sound much sharper I would have to give it a very reluctant thumbs-down. This one, on the other hand, is one for the ages.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand" by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Eugene Conley (), George London (), Camilla Williams (),
Uta Graf (), Carlos Alexander (), Frances Yeend ()
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/09/1950 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York 
Length: 22 Minutes 27 Secs. 

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