MAHLER:  Symphony No. 8 in E Flat Major "Symphony of a Thousand."
Jane Eaglen, Anne Schwanewilms and Ruth Ziesak, sopranos; Sara Fulgoni and Anna Larsson, contraltos; Ben Heppner, tenor; Peter Mattei, baritone; Jan-Hendrick Rootering, bass; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Netherlands Radio Choir; St. Bavo's Cathedral Boys' Choir; Breda Sacraments Choir; Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Riccardo Chailly, cond.

DECCA 467 314 (2 CDs for the price of one) (F) (DDD) TT:  82:14

Chailly apparently is recording all of the Mahler symphonies with the Royal Concertgebouw; he has recorded Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, although the latter two for some reason are not currently listed in Schwann/Opus.  No. 10, in the Cooke version, was recorded several years ago with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and recently has been reissued so it seems unlikely there will be a Concertgebouw recording of that even though in past months Chailly gave a series of performances.  Fortunately collectors might be able to find a performance from the BBC, and the Chailly/Concertgebouw Mahler 10 also is included in the fine Live! at the Concertgebouw broadcast series. 

Chailly is quoted as saying, "the Symphony of a Thousand is really a very intimate work, one requiring a chamber music-like attention to detail for over half its length."  In a 1996 interview when he performed the Eighth in Amsterdam he said, "I wished mine (Mahler 8) to be smaller, more intimate.  I think it was the smallest Mahler Eighth ever."  His 2000 approach to the mighty Eighth surely doesn't sound "small," perhaps low-key, but impressive in the big moments if without the passion of Leonard Bernstein or the cohesiveness of Jascha Horenstein.  Chailly has the advantage of the finest over-all group of soloists and, of course, the playing of the RCO.

It took four days in September 1971 for Bernard Haitink to make his Philips recording of Mahler's Eighth with the Concertgebouw; it also took four days, in January 2000, for Riccardo Chailly to make this Decca recording of the same work with the same orchestra.  It has been reported one or two of the vocal soloists were unable to be at the January sessions and their parts were recorded later and dubbed in.  Decca's notes say nothing of this.  If this is true, it has been so successfully accomplished there is no evidence of it.  Surely the opening Veni, creator spiritus overwhelms the listener with its massive organ pedal plus orchestral and choral outburst.  Over-all sonic perspective is rather distant, with soloists well-placed; in the case of Ruth Ziesak's Mater Gloriosa extremely distant as the score suggests she should be.  During louder parts of the music there is a huge mass of rather undefined sound in the low bass -- and the large chorus is sometimes distorted.  There was more richness to the Philips Haitink recording made three decades ago.  I've heard a broadcast tape of the Chailly live 2000 performance engineered by the Dutch Radio which has a more natural perspective than the Decca recording  -- although not as wide a dynamic range. Surely this recording did not have forces requested by Mahler, at least in the choral department -- they just couldn't fit available space.  The Concertgebouw is a rather small-capacity hall (perhaps that's one reason why acoustics are so fine).  The 350 seats behind the orchestra are filled with members of the chorus -- which means that there were only about 1,600 in the audience.  Perhaps one reason why the radio broadcast is more successful than either of the commercial  recordings is because the capacity audience would absorb much of the resonance.

The Mahler Eighths that set the standard are those by Horenstein and Stokowski.

R.E.B.(April 2001)