sydney symphony, Symphony No 8
Simon O'Neill, Adelaide Symphony Chorus, Marina Shaguch, Marcus Eiche, Sydney Phil Chorus, vladimir ashkenazy, Martin Snell, Dagmar Peckova, Bernadette Cullen, Sara Macliver, Sydney Symphony/Ashkenazy, Gondwana Voices, WA Symphony Chorus, sydney symphony, Twyla Robinson

I’ve always thought Mahler’s Eighth Symphony something of a trial: the idea of yoking the medieval hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus with the final scene of Goethe’s Faust, seems bizarre alongside its theme of redemption.

The opening movement is an assault on the senses, especially at its climax, and makes me wonder whether it’s almost impossible to “interpret” it in the normal sense of the word. That said, Ashkenazy and his forces handle the climaxes and double fugue of the first section with a judicious blend of heaven storming, rhetorical grandeur and clarity of orchestral and choral textures (no mean feat!). Music of this heft really needs majestic phrasing and it certainly receives it here.

The quiet, almost sinister, opening to the second part (Mahler’s rather, for once, understated depiction of Hell) is well paced and phrased, and the music achieves a transcendental ecstatic quality, reminiscent of the incandescence of the final act of Wagner’s Parsifal; it’s also beautifully played, as is the entire work, by the Sydney forces. The massed choirs and soloists are all fine, especially Marina Shaguch in her stratospheric tessitura as Gretchen the Penitent at the end. My favourite readings of the Eighth are by the late and genuinely lamented Klaus Tennstedt (EMI) and the equally lamented Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG), but this is a fine effort.

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MAHLER Symphony No 8 (Sydney Symphony / Ashkenazy)
4 out of 5
Sydney Symphony
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