MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand” – Heather Harper, Hermann Prey & other soloists/Toonkunstkoor, Amsterdam/ De Stem des Volks, Amsterdam/ Children’s Choirs/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – PentaTone RQR

by | Jun 7, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand” – Heather Harper, Hermann Prey & other soloists/Toonkunstkoor, Amsterdam/ De Stem des Volks, Amsterdam/ Children’s Choirs/Jo Juda, violin/ Kees de Wijs, organ/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – PentaTone RQR Series Multichannel (4.0) SACD PTC 5186 166, 70:45 ****:

The RQR series are remastered quadraphonic recordings which Philips made back in the early 1970s with the idea of releasing on quad LPs.  But the primitive technical abilities of the playback media at the time made the label reconsider, and then the ill-fated project died on the vine.  It’s hard to believe this amazing four-channel surround recording has been sitting on the shelf since it was made in the Concertgebouw in 1971. It’s rich, powerful and involving, and in no way belies its 35-year Van Winkling.  

In the past I’ve reviewed a Decca DVD-A of this odd-duck Mahler work – which also featured the Concertgebouw Orchestra, only directed by Riccardo Chailly. The work is quite different from Mahler’s other symphonies in having two seemingly disparate parts. The first is in six movements and is constructed on the ancient Latin hymn Veni, creator spiritus. The second half is a musical setting of the final scene of the second part of Goethe’s Faust. The connection was intended to have an inner logic – the first part summoning the creative spirit, and the second demonstrating the link between creativity and the allure of the eternal feminine. The second part is strong on various souls ascending to heaven musically and all that sort of thing. This is certainly an appropriate work for hi-res multichannel playback!

Personally I think Mahler sort of let his grandiosity get away from him on this symphony.  His writings about the unusual work remind me of some quotes of Wagner or Scriabin. Still, there are plenty of amazing moments in the work.  All involved in this Dutch production turn in fine performances and are skillfully recorded.  One doesn’t miss the other two channels in any notable way.

– John Sunier

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