many people own the Kubelik set of Mahler symphonies on DG.
But being a live performance, and in remastered sound, this
is still an excellent introduction to Mahler's monumental
Eighth Symphony. Kubelik is a reliable, no frills conductor,
who will always give a balanced, thoughtful reading without
extremes of temperament. You could do a lot worse than to
learn Mahler from this undoubted master.
recording also benefits from an excellent set of soloists,
whose voices are clearly differentiated: an important consideration
in a symphony where the singers so often sing in a group,
and where clarity helps bring out the interplay of individual
voices. It is also live, as most recordings of this massive
symphony are, given the logistics of putting together any
performance. If you’ve got the “thousand” performers together,
tape them for the moment may never come again! More seriously,
a symphony like this is an event in itself, and an experience
so unique that it generates its own atmosphere. The sheer
dynamic of coordinating such vast numbers creates a sense
of occasion which further inspires the performers to give
their best. Even performances where there are elements not
quite up to scratch retain this feeling of immediacy. If
ever there was a symphony that needs to be listened to for
total impact, this is it. It’s churlish, I think, to expect
utter perfection at all times, especially given the size
of the forces involved. After all, the text is about the
redemption of Faust and his being accepted into Heaven despite
having sinned. Love transcends death, and redeems the flawed
soul. Miss that, and you miss a fundamental aspect of Mahler’s
entire outlook on life, replicated in different forms in
the Second, the Fourth, the Ninth and Das Lied von der
Erde, if not more subtly elsewhere.
main minus with this reissue, particularly for newcomers,
is the poor booklet notes. On the other hand, that’s no disqualification.
Listen with your ears and soul, don’t bury your nose in the
booklet. Then, learn all you can from other sources and recordings.
opening movement, Veni, creator spiritus is particularly
animated. With a powerful surge of the great organ, the symphony
gets off the ground, soloists and choruses right on the mark.
From an almost silent background, individual soloists rise,
their voices weaving and blending together. The soloists
are well chosen, as each voice is so distinctive it’s easy
to track them: there’s no mistaking Fischer-Dieskau, for
example, though his lines are less spectacular, perhaps,
than those of the sopranos. Kubelik’s characteristic light
touch is persuasive in the non vocal passages. It mirrors
the surprising delicacy of the vocal writing. Other conductors
can get away with darker textures, perhaps because their
singers aren’t as transcendently clear as Kubelik’s.
the rather over-bright recording has its merits, adding to
the sense of heightened spiritual illumination. This isn’t
reality, it’s technicolour Heaven, where various manifestations
of the Virgin Mary, Gretchen, Faust and other symbolic figures
sing, watched, presumably by anchorites in caves - as described
in Goethe’s original text.
bathes the next movement with similar light. Behind the songs
of the contraltos and Magna peccatrix, for example, you can
hear details like plucked strings and harp. Overall, the
singing is good, despite occasional strained notes pitched
too ambitiously. In the penultimate chorus, the brass repeats
the notes behind the words “Blicket auf !” and the
sounds fade away, as if dissolving into space. Then, led
by the Chorus mysticus and sopranos, themes from Veni,
creator spiritus return rousingly, and in full force.
Redeemed by love, Faust is transmuted into eternity and taken
into Heaven . “Das Ewig-Wiebliche zieht uns hinan”.
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