Mahler: Symphony No.8 - "Symphony Of A Thousand" - 4785006

. . . I had a near out-of-body experience while listening to a 1971 Decca LP set, taped in Vienna's Sofiensaal, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by its legendary maestro Sir Georg Solti and featuring strong vocal soloists and great choruses . . . [now] we are treated to a High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray . . . [with eight principal soloists] as well Viennese choruses, there is no shortage of vocal fire power on stage. The performers are further stoked to a proverbial white-heat state by the often-frenetic baton of conductor Solti, making this performance one that will keep listeners on the edges of their respective seats throughout . . . [this release] truly benefits from this newer audio format. While the recording industry has moved on considerably since 1971, this was one whale of a performance then and remains so to this day.

Heading to that desert island? Don't forget to pack this one . . . Solti has held up over the years as a disc that, like his Wagner "Ring", really sets so many standards in so many departments. And since this was not a surround sound issue to begin with, this is the perfect treatment for this re-release, sounding better than it ever has -- and it was always good. For me another desert island pick, obligatory.

The organ and chorus explode at the beginning, and the massive climaxes of "Veni, creator spiritus" are unprecendented on a recording. The orchestral interlude opening Part Two has searing intensity. As recorded here, Mahler's delicate orchestration in Part Two is revealed with startling clarity. Solti never lets the music drag or unravel and his urgency holds it together without ever seeming to be episodic . . . The finale is simply overwhelming. Add to all of that, probably the finest group of soloists ever assembled for this work, and you have arguably the greatest Mahler recording of all time. All of it comes together as never before on this Blu-ray audio disc.

Solti is magnificent in the opening "Veni creator spiritus" movement, generating a real sense of excitement in the onward propulsion. This eludes many of his more cautious rivals. His soloists . . . are one of the best on disc. Popp and Harper are not only superb in their pianissimi but also manage to produce glorious sounds in full voice. He has an unparalleled pair of mezzos in the shape of Yvonne Minton and Helen Watts. John Shirley-Quirk manages to make his entry as Pater Ecstaticus less of a jolt, interrupting the superbly controlled opening prelude to Part Two. Martti Talvela is a black-voiced Pater Profundus with all the savagery that the music demands. The Vienna Boys' Choir are also magnificent and the Vienna Singverein, sometimes less than steady in other recordings, benefit from being bolstered by the Vienna State Opera Chorus. Its sopranos are capable of rising to the top Cs in the closing pages of the first movement without any sense of effort. That doyen of chorus masters Wilhelm Pitz welds them into a fully integrated unit. The Chicago players, well accustomed to Solti's demands at this time, play their hearts out and never fail to register every detail within the often detailed score. One must single out the solo piccolo in the passage just before the Chorus mysticus, with its total avoidance of the shrillness than can often afflict the instrument in its highest register . . . Michael Kennedy's booklet note is rightly appreciative of it.