of a Thousand is a marketing title
not authorized by Mahler, matters technical
are a key concern in the performance
of Mahlerís eighth symphony. In 1971
Philips recorded it quadraphonically.
But because standard - and therefore
widespread and viable - home reproducing
equipment was never established, the
recording was only issued in stereo
- until this issue in SACD in Pentatoneís
Remastered Quadro Recordings series.
To retain the integrity of the original,
only four channels - two front and two
rear - are used. The question is does
this significantly enhance the listening
experience? Is it worth getting this
version even if you have the stereo?
I compared this Pentatone
release with the stereo reissue I have
in Haitinkís box set of complete Mahler
symphonies (Philips 4420502), the only
form in which itís currently available.
The stereo version has the two choirs
clearly separated and is smoothly balanced
but is a touch strident in the heavily
scored passages, of which there are
plenty in the opening hymn.
This Pentatone SACD
is altogether more spacious and glowing,
clear and thrilling in effect and with
greater body. The fortissimo passages
have considerably more impact, particularly
those special occasions such as the
return of the hymn opening (tr. 5, 4:58)
when all sing or play fortissimo. Those
separately stationed four trumpets and
three trombones added at the climaxes
of both parts (trs. 7, 2:53 and 21,
4:00) provide a visceral sound boost
I havenít heard on recordings before.
The Concertgebouw acoustic is more recognisable.
Itís more like being there. The transfer
is also very smooth: the recording wears
its years lightly. I didnít notice any
tape hiss. So if you like the interpretation
itís definitely worth getting this SACD.
It remains, nevertheless, clearly a
recording of analogue origin. The sound
is bright but not astringent, clean
textured and truthful to Haitinkís analytical
care in revealing orchestration. But
if you want a rich bass - which I donít
- youíll be disappointed.
You might wonder if
the CD layer of this Pentatone hybrid
sounds better than the Philips original.
Iíd say itís slightly smoother, less
glaring and has a touch more perspective.
But these are marginal differences in
comparison with the SACD impact.
Part 1 of this symphony
is a setting of the 9th century
Latin hymn Veni, creator spiritus.
Haitink begins in an eager and welcoming,
heroic, even bouncy manner. The first
section for soloists, ĎImple superna
gratiaí (tr. 2) establishes that their
approach will be lyrical and ardent,
especially the first soprano, Ileana
Cotrubas. At ĎInfirma nostra corporisí
(tr. 3) and the change of key to D minor
comes a murkier, softer chorus and spooky
violin solo, whereupon the two soprano
soloistsí entry, softer still, at ĎVirtute
firmus perpetií (1:27) is yet more phantasmagoric.
The key moment, the
change to E major and mass chorusesí
acclamation ĎAccende lumen sensibusí
(tr. 5), is precipitous, the pause marked
after the first ĎAcí barely felt. The
march at ĎHostem repellasí (1:08) is
starkly dramatic with screaming high
notes tailing phrases, the ensuing double
fugue rigorous yet also with something
of exciting abandon about it. I was
struck by the overall sense of spontaneity
and commitment. The Gloria (tr. 7) is
one expansive euphoric parade with all
the stops thrillingly out at the end.
Part 2 is the final
scene from Goetheís Faust Part
II. In the orchestral introduction Haitink
gets a keen sense of atmosphere from
the clarity of the opening soft cymbal
stroke, the tingling tremolando strings
and high woodwind tessitura, clarinet
especially. This really is a new and
uncertain environment; but the cellosí
warmth (tr. 8 1:18), supported by the
hornsí response, is more memorable and
comforting than the thrashing about
of the elements which follow.
Groping choruses (tr.
10) portray anchorites pretty cowed
by all this. So itís good that Hermann
Prey brings both lyrical ardour and
edge to the Pater Estaticusí plea (tr.
11) for eternal love with eloquent orchestral
backing from Haitink. Hans Sotin has
a more difficult task in the tortured
nature of Pater Profundusí plea (tr.
12), graphically aware of storm and
stress, but having less momentous impact
At this moment Faustís
soul is borne up by angels and the significance
of that earlier cellosí and hornsí warmth
becomes clear. These particular angels
(tr. 13) are an eager lot and the blessed
boys (0:25) have an appropriate raw
directness. The female younger angels
(tr. 14) then make a smooth, if somewhat
soporific contrast. But theyíre just
a foil for the more perfect angels (tr.
15) in a suddenly hushed, hazy, incense-like
and holy atmosphere in which the orchestration,
opening with viola and violin solos,
has suddenly become wonderfully transparent.
Grafted on this at 0:58 comes a lovely,
full-toned and emotive contralto solo,
I presume from Birgit Finnila.
Now (tr. 16) Haitink
reveals a starry orchestral backcloth
for the younger angels and the entrance
of Doctor Marianus. William Cochran
has fitting refinement and lyricism
if not much power, so itís good the
recording provides ample space around
him. The entrance of the Virgin Mary
(tr. 17) is sublimely achieved by Haitink.
The glowing sound of the harmonium,
not heard before, the tender strings
with some delicate portamento, both
as indicated in the score (e.g. 0:40,
1:04) and appropriate additions (e.g.
Enter the three women
to plead for Faustís soul (tr. 18).
Ileana Cotrubasís Magna Peccatrix has
a pleasingly airy, relaxed ardour. Birgit
Finnilaís Samaritan Woman is darker
and more emotive. Thereís a sinewy dramatic
quality to Marianne Dielemanís Egyptian
Woman. Good to have contrast, while
Cotrubas supplies the cream in their
unheard instrument, the mandolin (tr.
18 from 5:10), also clearer than ever
in this re-mastering, makes a suitable
backcloth to the bright, eager witness
of Heather Harperís Penitent, a mood
immediately caught by the boysí choir
and the orchestra which also becomes
more animated. Hanneke van Borkís response
as the Virgin (tr. 19, 3:08) is positive
as well as ethereal and Doctor Marianusís
prayer (tr. 20) spirited, whereupon
orchestra and choruses open out in waves
of ecstatic sound. Equally effective
is from 4:41 the melting into the cool
douche of flute and piccolo, rippling
celesta and piano over harmonium.
As Faustís soul and
all the witnesses are drawn towards
heaven, the closing Mystic Chorus (tr.
21) begins raptly but you sense it will
also open out. In the mean-time, from
1:49 enjoy a lovely, appropriately chaste
top C and B flat from Cotrubas, answered
by B flats from Harper. Then prepare
yourself for an overwhelming emotional
and sonic experience which is the final
chorus and orchestral postlude, here
a spectacular blaze of sound, but difficult
to enjoy to the full if you have near
For comparison I turned
to the most famous and renowned analogue
recording, that made by Chicago Symphony
Orchestra/Georg Solti in the same month
in 1971 (Decca 4757521). Soltiís recording
sounds more strident, the orchestra
less prominent, two channels resulting
in less clarity and density than four.
Soltiís approach is more operatic, worldly,
the chorus more lusty and rugged, the
voices with more vibrato. This matches
his more colourful realization of Mahlerís
orchestration, whose Ďeffectsí are more
dramatic. Solti relishes the moment
more vividly, Haitink relates it more
farsightedly to the whole and accordingly
has more of a visionary quality. Haitink
doesnít have the charisma of Solti,
but this four channel release for me
secures him an equal distinctiveness.
In Part 1 that key
moment at ĎAccende lumen sensibusí is
realized more vividly by Solti because
the pause after ĎAcí is more marked
and the following march is of an even
more highly charged fervour which approaches
mass hysteria. Soltiís contrasts of
tempo are more dynamic and apparent.
This is why Soltiís timings are a little
slower. His Part 1 takes 23:43 against
Haitinkís 22:30. In Part 2 the respective
timings are 56:21 and 53:13. Haitinkís
tempi are subtler and seem more natural.
introduction to Part 2 is more graphic
and seems packed with more incident
and dramatic shading, but his high woodwind
donít have as piercingly distinctive
a sonority as Haitinkís. His anchorites
are more wooden and throughout his boysí
choir more polite. Against Soltiís blazing
orchestral backcloth John Shirley-Quirkís
Pater Estaticus needs a more valorous
ardour than Preyís greater naturalness,
but Martti Talvelaís Pater Profundus
has more dramatic and emotional impact
than Hans Sotin. The same might be said
of René Kolloís Doctor Marianus,
who is a touch less lyrical but projects
more successfully than William Cochran.
Soltiís strings depicting
the entrance of the Virgin Mary are
rather sugary, but his three women make
an animated trio, while Lucia Poppís
Penitent, light yet comely, shows more
character than Heather Harper. Arleen
Augérís Virgin is more otherworldly
than Hanneke van Bork. René Kollo
is magnificently rapturous in Dr Marianusí
prayer, backed by a stirring chorus.
Solti achieves a haunting pearly stillness
before the Mystic Chorus which is at
first rather fuzzy, though better at
its full-throated climax. His soprano
soloistsí high notes arenít as telling
Iíd say honours are
pretty even between Solti and Haitink.
I feel Mahlerís head would have appreciated
Haitinkís more spiritual approach while
his heart would have relished Soltiís
barnstorming. Iím happy to have both,
but if forced to choose would go for
Haitink. And in four channels he now
has the significantly better recording.
In the present Pentatone
Haitink release some minor deficiencies
have been replicated from its Philips
predecessor. There are no sung texts
or translations. Reasonable for a budget
box, unreasonable for a full price single
CD. Pater Estaticus is called Doctor.
The orchestra which recorded this work
in 1971 did not become the Royal Concertgebouw
until 1988. And Pentatone has added
a fresh error of its own. The total
timing is given as 70:45. Fortunately
this remastering hasnít lopped off 5
Niggles over. Haitinkís
always finely considered, spiritually
focussed interpretation has been given
an impressive new lease of life in four