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Symphony No 8

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 18, 2006
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Symphonie n° 8 "des Mille" / Chœur de l'Université Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Chœur de la Radio Polonaise, Chœur & Orchestre Philharmonique de Varsovie - Antoni Wit, direction

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This new, budget recording rises right to the top of the list of available Mahler Eighths. Not only does Conductor Antoni Wit appreciate the work for its breadth and enormity; the superb recording--and apparently Wit's ear--captures a wealth of detail that is simply inaudible in most other recordings. It is one of the few recordings I can think of in which the organ does not sound overdubbed into the performance, mandolins and harps make just the right impression, and string parts are clear and clean. In addition, Wit's tempi seem ideal, neither rushed nor too leisurely. The choruses are superb--and superbly recorded--and the vocal soloists are, simply, the best on record. Most tenors sound strained, most of the time the soprano works too hard: here there's none of that. Vocal lines are finely sung, and the voices merge well, both with eachother and the choral and orchestral fiber. This is ravishing: very highly recommended. --Robert Levine
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 18, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B000EQHS14
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,279 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eric J. Matluck on May 30, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
It would be easy to say that this is the single greatest performance of the Mahler Eighth ever recorded; I believe it is. But it would be difficult to say that and have it mean something, because after experiencing this colossal achievement, the competition (including, alphabetically, Abbado, Bernstein, Chailly, Haitink, Horenstein, Kubelik, Nagano, Olson [Colorado Mahlerfest], Solti, and Tennstedt, among others) suddenly seemed far less impressive than they once had. What sets this Mahler Eighth so far apart from virtually every other is its sense of ecstasy; of a transcendent vision being communicated, of a religious fervor. Mahler had an extraordinary plan in putting together what he considered his most important work, such that he could bring us to the brink and say, "There. It's out there. You can't see it, but you can divine it" (and call "it" what you will: "God" or "Love" or some all-embracing power outside of ourselves). Most performances miss the mark, then, in one of two ways: by remaining resolutely earthbound or by trying to capture that vision in terms we can understand. The problem, of course, is that if we can understand it, it's no longer a vision, it's something mundane. In the closing pages of Wit's extraordinary (and that word, as well as any other, hardly begins to do it justice) performance you become aware of that vision existing just beyond your comprehension. You know it's there only because you're willing to take that leap of faith. And that's what I mean when I say he brings the piece a sense of religious fervor. There is nothing dogmatic about the kind of religion I'm referring to here.

So let's look at the basic components of the performance, element by element:

The sound: Spectacularly natural and all-encompassing.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
There are plenty of Mahler 8ths out there. Considering the difficulty of the work, it is a wonder. I actually saw Solti perform the piece in Chicago before he recorded it. His performance is a benchmark. But this performance has many attributes that place it with the best. The soloists are all good, some with rather individual traits that make them stand out (a good thing!). Wit paces the performance with lyric intensity, without driving it as Bernstein and Solti did. The sound is some of the best Naxos has ever done. It is spacious, wide open acoustic, but it is clear and balanced. Quite an achievement.
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Format: Audio CD
In the end, it may all depend on taste and on mood. There are many recordings (of about 40 existing total) of Mahler's Eighth Symphony which are considered almost automatically as 'the best Mahler Eight' by ever so many different people. (My favorites would be Abbado and Nagano, by the way...)

Aside from many other 'big' names like Haitink, Gielen, Kubelik, and Sinopoli, we have the 'early' classics like Horenstein (1959) and Mitropoulos (1960), the classic favourites of Bernstein (especially 1966 and 1975) and Solti (1971), (somewhat) more recent favourites like Tennstedt (1986) and Abbado (1994), and the 'latest additions' to the catalogue like Chailly (2000) and Nagano (2005) and now this, maybe to top it off, the recording on Naxos by Antoni Wit conducting the Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra and soloists. (We can only wait to hear what Pierre Boulez and Michael Tilson Thomas will have to say in the matter, but could it get much better than all that has gone before or that which has now been reached with, for example, Abbado, Nagano and Antoni Wit...?)

ABOUT THIS RECORDING. This specific recorded performance has - I believe - many, many virtues (which outweigh any of its possible 'defects'), of which the most important is - at least to the ears of this particular listener - a sense of coherence and overarching vision.
First of all, there is coherence in the music-making, as it is being nicely held together - in the aspects of tempi and phrasings - by the conductor, ever moving along purposefully, never sagging or revelling in the music for beauty's sake.
Antoni Wit seems to have a clear sense of the need for stressing the drama behind the music.
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Format: Audio CD
I have been listening to Mahler for about ten years now. His symphonies are all magnificent, epic works, both emotionally and structurally, and they lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations. Consequently, I very seldom find a single recording of a symphony of Mahler that I'm totally satisfied with. This CD is that rare and precious item. If I owned no other recording, I would still feel completely satisfied.

All of Mahler's symphonies are well served(maybe a bit TOO well served!) on disc. I have heard Bernstein, Solti, Chailly, Tennstedt, Nagano, Rattle, and Abbado, and quite honestly, none are bad at all. But Antoni Wit's is easily my favorite.

I played this CD blind to a friend, and he guested the orchestra to be the Chicago Symphony. The playing of the Warsaw National Philharmonic, in particular the brass section, simply could not be better. More detail in Mahler's all important brass writing can be heard than on any other recording I've heard. The organ, so often either artificially pumped up in the mix(Solti), or not there at all(Abbado), sounds perfect, just loud enough that it feels like an organic part of the overall sonic picture, but never drawing undue attention to itself. In fact, that would also describe the sonics in general: Totally warm, clear and natural, nothing overmixed or unnaturally accentuated.

I'm no signing expert, but the singing sounded magnificent to me. One highlight is the big choral climax at the words "Accende lumen sensibus" in the first movement, a perfect balance of energy and grandeur. Another is tenor Timothy Bentch at "Blicket auf zum retterblick, alle reuig zarten" in Part II. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Wit's tempo and transitions between sections are all superb.
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