MAHLER: Symphony no. 8

This recording of the Eighth Symphony is the latest, and it is a fine
addition to his cycle and to the recent spate of CDs of this work. Given the
strength of the choral forces association with the Warsaw National
Philharmonic, this recording is particularly welcome. This experienced
ensemble brings a remarkably clear diction and fine sense of intonation to
this demanding piece of music. If it lacks anything, the sometimes distant
sound does not serve the performers well enough. Yet after several minutes of
concentration, the ear acclimates itself to the quality of the sound, and it is
possible to hear past the sonics of the recording and apprehend its merits.

In recent years, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony has become more widely
known through a number of recordings, and with his recent recording, Wit has
made a fine contribution for the details he brings out in a reasonably priced
and easy to find release. Those familiar with the work may wish to begin with
the “Chorus mysticus” at the end of the second part, which begins
with the familiar text of Goethe, “Alles Verg‰ngliche ist nur ein
Gleichnis.” Perhaps one of the best-known parts of Mahler’s
Symphony, the choral forces alone deserve merit for the resonant and dynamic
sonorities that Wit uses to draw out the connotations of the otherworldly
nature of the text. The massed voices create a resonant and supple sound that
stands in contrast to the solo passages and other vocal ensembles that
precede it in the work. While the opening of the passage is relatively soft,
the full power of the ensemble is impressive for not only the amplitude, but
the depth of sound that conveys the sense of the subtitle, that is, truly a
“Symphony of a Thousand.” More than a fine sense of the choral
drama, Wit controls the orchestral forces, such that the sound bodies move
together to create a convincing ending from what appears to be a tireless

The soloists are also worth noting, with the fresh and pure sound of the
Mater gloriosa, Marta Boberska. Those familiar with recent recordings from
Poland may be familiar with the fine singing of Barbara Kubiak and Jadwiga
RappÈ.Rappe has a depth of range and color, which is noticeable her
presentation of the music for the Samaritan woman (Mulier Samaritana);
likewise the other alto Ewa Marciniec matches her timbre with a somewhat
lighter sound. Of the men, all three of the solo voices are notable in their
own right, each bringng a distinctive quality to their respective voice types
ad the characters associated with them in Goethe’s drama. The American
tenor Timothy Bentch noted for his work with the Hungarian National Opera
offers an impressively interpretation of the demanding part of Doctor
Marianus. This critical role is rarely delivered with such mastery. Wojciech
Drabowicz offers an engaging baritone sound. The Pater profundis, Piotr
Nowacki delivers his part with resilience and articulation enunciation.

Yet the choral quality critical to a successful performance and recording
is evident not only in the final chorus, but throughout the first part. Wit
shapes the choral sounds with an ear for the textures that can be elicited
from the forces involved. The pure sounds of the children’s voice
retain their distinctive and engaging sound without emulating the adult
voices around them. Nowhere does Wit allow one element to overshadow the
others and, more importantly, it appears that each detail has its place in
this conception of what is one of Mahler’s more demanding scores.
Wit’s command of the forces involved is apparent in the clean entrances
and uniformly fine intonation.

Overall Wit’s tempos demonstrate his respect for the clear
presentation of the text, and the diction, in a sense, propels the
performance. At no point does his careful pacing seem bogged down nor, when
tempos pick up, ever give a sense of being rushed. It is to Wit’s
credit that he gave the score the attention it deserves in discerning its
profound meaning.

This is a fine addition to the recent spate of recordings of this festival
work of Mahler. It is an impressive recording on its own merits, and
demonstrates the level of music-making that bears watching. Recorded on 1 to
6 June 2005, this is a studio recording that retains the freshness associated
with live performances. Wit’s other Naxos recordings of Mahler’s
symphonies are worth attention, but this particular one is all the more
engaging for its strong interpretation and overall fine execution.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8
product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8
product_by=Barbara Kubiak, Izabela Kłosińska, Marta Boberska (sopranos); Jadwiga RappÈ, Ewa Marciniec (altos); Timothy Bentch (tenor); Woytek Drabowicz (baritone); Piotr Nowacki (bass); Antoni Wit, conductor; Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
product_id=Naxos 8.550533/4 [2CDs]