MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major “Symphony of a Thousand” – Soloists/Choirs/Deutsche Symphonie, Berlin/Kent Nagano – Harmonia mundi

by | Nov 24, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major “Symphony of a Thousand”
– Sylvia Greenberg, soprano/ Lynne Dawson, soprano/ Sally Matthews,
soprano/ Sophie Koch, alto/ Elena Manistina, alto/ Robert Gambill,
tenor/ Dedlef Roth, baritone/ Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass/ Berlin Radio
Choir/ MDR Radio Choir, Leipzig/ Windsbacher Children’s Choir/ Sigurd
Brauns, organ/ Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin/ Kent Nagano –
Harmonia Mundi 2 Multichannel SACDs HMC 801858.59, 24:12; 63:59 ****:

If ever a work were conceived for the future of sound reproduction
media, it is certainly Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony (1910),
which he composed as a musical exercise in mysticism, a counterpart to
the many-faceted repercussions of Goethe’s Faust and the entire range
of Medieval and Enlightenment metaphysical speculation. Likely inspired
by Liszt’s Faust-Symphonie as much by Keplerian and Dantesque visions
of the cosmos, the Eighth utilizes motivic structures much as had his
pantheistic Third Symphony, only here the scale is larger, the layering
processes more contrapuntal, and the harmonic textures thicker in a way
that must have delighted Busoni. If Dante has his Beatrice, Goethe has
his Doctor Marianus; and each of these figures is a mediator for Divine
Love and Heavenly Bliss, an eternity Mahler craves with all of his
heretical-Christian soul. Liszt and Mahler wish Gretchen
transfiguration; hers has been a Fortunate Fall. Whether the monolithic
sincerity of Mahler’s music makes it anything more than a grandiose
series of effects, however, is open to debate.

Having traversed this score on record through Mitropoulos, Stokowski,
and Kubelik, and live with Robert Shaw, I am not immune to the sonic
splendors of Mahler’s invocation to the Spirit of Creation. I respect
no less the breadth of Mahler’s reading and his absorption of
neo-Platonist mysticism, such as Swedenborg. But intellectual knowledge
and cultural esotericism do not a pretty symphony make. The complex
trappings of the music, with its arcane references and abstruse,
numerological and secular allusions, does little to make the music
convincing. [That could be applied to much new music today…Ed.] What
I find are melodic bits rather than extended songs; even the soloists
relish only moments of arioso writing. This is the kind of melodic
fragmentation that indeed I associate with Busoni, who for all his
melodies is not tuneful. Did Mahler want to write an oratorio but find
his talent and style unsuited to the medium? Unable to bridge the gap
between folk song and liturgy, does Mahler’s secular humanism fail to
create a successful musical hybrid? That Nagano and company realize the
opening of the Heavenly Gates at the climax of the “Alles
Vergaengliche” is not in doubt: the combination of chorus, orchestra,
and organ mutated my sound system into Glory. But as music, this grand
work provokes more aesthetic questions than satisfactions in my ears;
and as much as I admire this recording and Mahler’s oeuvre generally, I
have been unable to embrace this symphony.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
La Clave – Acoustic Sounds

La Clave – Acoustic Sounds

Verve/Universal Music Group releases a re-mastered vinyl of an obscure, but highly entertaining 70’s album.