Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ricarda Merbeth (soprano 1) - Magna Peccatrix
Elza van den Heever (soprano II) - Una Poenitentum
Elisabeta Marin (soprano) - Mater Gloriosa
Stella Grigorian (alto I) - Mulier Samaritana
Jane Henschel (alto II) - Maria Aegyptica
Johan Botha (tenor) - Doctor Marianus
Boaz Daniel (baritone) - Pater Ecstaticus
Kwangchul Youn (bass) - Pater Profundis
Wiener Singakademie/Heinz Ferlesch
Slovak Philharmonic Choir/Blanka Jhunakova
Wiener Sängerknaben/Gerald Wirth
ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna/Bertrand de Billy
rec. 25 and 27 March 2010, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Full track-list at end of review
OEHMS CD OC768 [78:00]
This disc presents part of the cycle of Mahler’s works that Bertrand de Billy led in Vienna. The recording makes available his acclaimed performances of the Eighth Symphony. This particular release includes a number of current or new soloists, who offer fresh and exciting interpretations of the family parts of this work, along with several choirs in Vienna and the environs and the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra. Taken as a whole, the musicians involved are quite impressive, and Bertrand de Billy and Oehms have taken the opportunity to release a solid recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. 
In shaping the performance, de Billy is sensitive to the texts that are essential to both parts of the work. His tempos never compromise the presentation of the words, an aspect of de Billy’s efforts with opera, an aspect of Mahler’s score that one would also expect of its composer. The first part, the Latin hymn Veni creator spiritus has the sense of a cantata, with a blended choral sound supporting the solo voices. The pacing, sense of line, and clarity of presentation are in place from the start, with the recording capturing well the voices, although sometimes at the expense of the orchestral accompaniment. The orchestra can sometimes sound overbalanced in the treble, and while the bass instruments are not absent, it is, at times, difficult to hear the inner parts distinctly. This is not to fault the performance, which is effective for the sense of immediacy that emerges readily. The passage at the phrase “Qui Paraclitus diceris” is a good example of the way in which de Billy brings the performing forces together well, to give a sense of the musical space and vocal delivery that Mahler created. The interpretation is effective through to the conclusion, even though the brass can sometimes be strident.
De Billy meets the challenges of the second part well, and gives an equally fine reading of the final scene from Goethe’s Faust, the passage in which the transcendent elements found in the Latin text are expressed in the salvation of the eponymous character of the German drama. In this section of the Eighth de Billy allows the principals to bring out their solo lines, with Boaz Daniel notable for his interpretation of the character of Pater Ecstaticus in the passage “Ewiger Wonnebrand”, in which the diction and line resound vibrantly. Johan Botha is similarly effective as he expresses the passage near the conclusion, “Blicket auf”, with fine intensity. Here, the choral textures are particularly rich, with the voices nicely unified and never straining. The women are also effective, as found in the passage “Bei der Liebe, die den Füßen” in which the solo voices are prominent. All these forces come together with authority in the conclusion, the mystic Chorus “Alles Vergängliches ist nur ein gleichnis,” and de Billy gives the opening the same quiet beginning that characterizes the final chorus of the Second Symphony, a similar point of expression that did not escape the conductor. By allow the volume to swell after the harmonic tension crests, de Billy respects Mahler’s intentions in the score and creates an aural tableau in which the lines of the Mater Gloriosa emerge powerfully.
This is a fine recording which merits attention as a rare performance of Mahler by Bertrand de Billy. That stated, this is a live take, and it is possible sometimes to hear audience sounds; the ear quickly accommodates such small imperfections. The result is what matters. What we have here is an impressive interpretation of this extroverted work in a festival-quality performance. This is borne out by the respectful silence before the applause at the end of the final track.  

James L. Zychowicz 

An impressive interpretation of this extroverted work in a festival-quality performance. 

Full track-list

Part 1.
1: Veni, creator spiritus 1:21
2: Imple superna gratia 3:29
3: Tempo 1. Allegro impetuoso. Infirma nostri corporis 1:58
4: Tempo 1. Allegro, etwas hastig 1:15
5: Sehr fließend. Infirma nostri corporis 2:43
6: Plötzlich sehr breit und leidenschaftlichen Ausdrucks. Accende lumen sensibus 5:10
7: Qui Paraclitus diceris 3:05
8: A tempo. Gloria sit Patri Domino 2:42
Part 2.
9: Poco adagio 7:06
10: Piu mosso. Allegro moderato 3:48
11: Chor und Echo: Waldung, sie schwankt heran 4:46
12: Pater Ecstaticus: Ewiger Wonnebrand 1:15
13: Pater Profundis: Wie Felsenabgrund mir zu Füßen 4:39
14: Engel: Gerettet ist das edle Glied 00:57
15: Molto leggiero. Jene Rosen aus den Händen 1:47
16: Die vollendeterern Engel: Uns bleibt ein Erdenrest 1:53
17: Die jüngeren Engel: Ich spür soeben nebelnd um Felsenhöh 5:19
18: Äußerst langsam. Adagissimmo. Chor 1/2: Dir, der Unberührbaren 3:02
19: Mater peccatrix: Bei der Liebe, die den Füßen 5:36
20: Unmerklich frischer werden. Er überwächst uns schon 4:07
21: Doctor Mariansu: Blicket auf zu Retterblick 5:55
22: Chorus mysticus: Alles Vergängliches ist nur ein gleichnis 6:18