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Mahler: Symphony No. 8 [Wit/Warsaw Philharmonic] Blu-ray Audio Review

  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0 (96kHz/24-bit), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (96kHz/24-bit)
  • Subtitles: English, Latin, German
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1
  • Studio: Naxos
  • Blu-ray Release Date: April 1, 2011
  • List Price:

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Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]


The Performance

[Rating:5/5]

Gustav Mahler was nearing the end of his life and composing career when he penned this massive choral symphonic work in 1906. It premiered in Munich in 1910, a  year before Mahler’s death.  While the Eighth Symphony, also known as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” may not actually engage 1000 musicians, this premiere issue in High Definition 96 kHz/24-bit surround sound, features 8 soloists and 4 choirs. The work has two contrasting sections, the opening hymn, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” and the concluding final scene from Goethe’s Faust. It was intended to provide an overwhelming musical and spiritual experience, and to this end, Mahler largely succeeds. Antoni Wit, the director of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in this recording, has become not only one of Poland’s leading musicians but, through his many recordings, has achieved a world class status. His eight soloists, three sopranos, two altos, a tenor, baritone, and bass are nearly all Polish nationals, the exception being American tenor Timothy Bentch. This performance, initially issued in 2006 as a standard CD, was recorded in Warsaw Philharmonic Hall.

Wit has recorded most of the Mahler symphonies with these same forces but nothing previously prepared me for this particular listening experience. There was control over tempos,attention to the wide shifts in dynamics, for example, in the exuberant close of the first movement, and the nearly hushed opening of the second movement, coherence of the massive choral  forces and the integration of the soloists, all attested to substantial preparation and  a profound understanding of Mahler’s intentions. Taken as a whole, I was continually astonished by what I heard, in terms of inner details and overall sonic presentation. Most impressively, Maestro Wit never luxuriates in this work’s many glorious musical passages, nor does he succumb to the potential hysteria of the closing verses of Faust

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound track aids a work like this immensely. The  sense of hall space and the depth of the orchestra and chorus was effectively conveyed. The soloists were spread across the center stage and each was clearly recorded. Although listeners outside of Poland, will be unfamiliar with these singers, these are high quality voices that work beautifully in ensemble. The large choral forces are a little distant but in live performance, they must be placed well behind both singers and orchestral players. The balance from top to bottom is exemplary. The overall sonic picture serves the score well throughout.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0/5]

None.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

At one time or another, many of the world’s leading 20th and 21st century conductors have taken on this “King Kong” of a score. Of the more than 50 available recordings, the Eighth Symphony has been very fortunate, receiving a number of outstanding readings.  However, most are standard 2-channel analog or digital recordings so the space essential to a full appreciation of this mighty work is simply lacking.  I have kept a soft spot in my heart for the 1971 Solti/Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording as I saw these forces perform it live in Orchestra Hall. While its soloists and orchestra are among the best ever recorded, it now seems somewhat overwrought, when compared to the present recording. If Wit’s soloists might yield some vocal ground to their better known counterparts, the whole of this recording  far exceeds the sum of its parts. My yardstick for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is that it should transport the listener to a state approaching bliss. And, at its conclusion, was I ever blissful! Mahlerians, rejoice! This is a performance that you will gladly return to, over and over.

[amazon-product]B004P4I4OQ[/amazon-product]

[amazon-product region=”uk” tracking_id=”bluraydefinit-21″]B004P4I4OQ[/amazon-product]

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:4.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0/5]

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Just a quick note: this disc DOES have subtitles, both English and the original Latin and German. But if you are not interested in the subtitles, you don’t need to turn the TV on. Just put the disc in, wait for it to settle, and push play.

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