One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger

Some items
to consider


colourful imaginative harmony
Renate Eggebrecht violin

Leticia Gómez-Tagle
Chopin, Liszt, Scarlatti

Bax Piano Music

Guillaume LEKEU

Book 1 Book 2 Book3
Mota The Triptych: -Website

Acte Prealable returns
with New Releases

Superior performance

Shostakovich 6&7 Nelsons

Verdi Requiem Thielemann

Marianna Henriksson
An outstanding recital

Arnold Bax
Be converted

this terrific disc

John Buckley
one of my major discoveries

François-Xavier Roth
A game-changing Mahler 3


Bryden Thomson


Vaughan Williams Concertos

RVW Orchestral



We are currently offering in excess of 51,000 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 8 in E flat, “Symphony of a Thousand” (arr. Robert J. Keeshan for viola, double bass, and chamber choir) [89:41]
A homeless man (viola); Bob Barker (double-bass)
Warsaw Prisoners’ Choir
rec. live, 31 May, 2008, Bob Barker Studio, CBS Television City, Los Angeles, California, USA
NAXOS 8.509198-9 [28:12 + 61:29]

Experience Classicsonline

I feel that I have been sent this disc by mistake. In response to a query from one of MusicWeb International’s editors, I remarked that I had never been able to understand or indeed listen for more than five minutes to Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, and would rather review something simpler for April, like Johann Strauss waltzes, Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, or the symphonies of K.A. Hartmann. Then what should arrive in my mailbox but this?

Naxos are famous for their adventurous choices in repertoire but this is a rather intrepid step even for them. The present disc gives us the mighty Mahler symphony in an arrangement for double-bass, viola, and 32 choristers. Why 32? According to the liner-notes by producer David Hurwitz, it is because 31.6 is the square root of a thousand.

The story behind the arrangement is bizarre, if not particularly fascinating. Bob Barker, host of the legendary game show “The Price Is Right,” has also been a lifelong double bass enthusiast; he would often improvise riffs on popular tunes to entertain audiences during the commercial breaks of his show. Barker favorites included “Surfer Girl,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and nearly the entire Joan Baez songbook. But, behind the scenes, he nursed an enthusiasm for sterner stuff, and in the late 1970s commissioned this arrangement of the Mahler symphony from a good friend and fellow closeted musician, Robert J. Keeshan - better known as Captain Kangaroo.

Keeshan, chair of the second violas for the Palm Springs Hotel Orchestra, undertook to make the music something the friends could play together. Ultimately, he added a choir to the mix, simply because of the important part singing plays in this music, although he did have the felicitous idea of translating the lyrics to English, removing all religious references (owing to Barker’s Wahhabism), simplifying the vocabulary, and ensuring that everything rhymed quite nicely.

This arrangement, then, at last brings the Symphony of a Thousand down to my level. To substitute for church bells, the violist kicks a soprano in the shins, and at one point in Part I, beginning in what previously was the “Accende lumen sensibus,” Keeshan seems to have run out of ideas and has the viola and bass just play major scales in F-sharp for seven minutes.

Meanwhile, the actual notes of the choir parts have not been altered in any way, which is a pity not just because the syllables are quite different but because the Warsaw Prisoners’ Choir is comprised entirely of male bass and baritone singers, with the exception of two sopranos who missed their flight back to Poland (more on this later). One wonders if it would have been too much trouble to bring in the Beach Boys to handle the women’s parts.

The choir is terrific, though, especially in the lower registers, and I should note that the homeless violist, found panhandling on the street outside the studio, does a passable job sawing away and doubling in the role of conductor. Barker handles the bass part quite well for his age, occasional memory lapses and whimsical insertions of popular tunes like “Oops, I Did it Again” notwithstanding. Even at the ripe old age of 87, it is clear that Bob Barker is still quite a player.

I guess my biggest problem is with Mahler himself. This symphony definitely could have been brought down to about ten minutes, couldn’t it? And especially in this arrangement: the first choral lines of Part I are “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food,” and honestly, I feel that the rest of the verses are redundant. Add a couple of church-bell shin-kicks, maybe a Red Army-type march for the Warsaw voices, and a cadenza for the viola, and you’ve got a five-minute Part I. And, since Keeshan already lifted the text of “Bad Boys” (“What you gonna do / when Satan comes for you?”) for Part II, I see no sense in retaining any of the original text. I do like the relentless use of the sound of the viola to drive Faust mad. It seems appropriate.

Naxos’ packaging is fine as usual, with an excellent liner note essay which never really attempts to justify the project at hand. The sound quality is first-rate. There is no biographical information for the “homeless violist,” but I suppose I am unsurprised, given that this type of plight has befallen many of my violist friends. I presume that he is still living under an overpass in Los Angeles. At the very least, he can use the booklet for food.

A friend of mine who works for Naxos-who should probably remain anonymous, but let’s call her “Janet”-tells me that the recording sessions for this album were quite difficult. Apparently the Warsaw Prisoners’ Choir was only brought in because it happened to be in town for a taping of “Oprah,” and that all but two members of the Warsaw Women’s Penitentiary Voices packed their bags and flew home on the night before after numerous complaints about Barker’s backstage behavior. Even at the ripe old age of 87, it is clear that Bob Barker is still quite a player.

The live recording, made on the actual set of “The Price is Right,” were constantly interrupted by rather tepid studio audience applause, which producer Hurwitz erased afterwards. Unfortunately, he seems also to have eliminated the entire instrumental introduction to Part II, during which, I am told, the violist went to Wendy’s to get everyone lunch.

Indeed, the whole live atmosphere is rather careless. During the final children’s chorus, somebody’s music stand appears to have tipped over, leaving as evidence a loud metallic clatter, the sound of pages flying across the soundstage, and an Oxbridge-accented voice hissing, “Oh, bugger!” My own view of this CD, though rather more bemused, can be summarized in roughly the same words.

Brian Reinhart 



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.