We gave it a B
Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (”Symphony of a Thousand”), a shaggy dog of a symphony, keeps a toehold on the repertoire on the strength of its sexy nickname. Few conductors can resist the chance to assemble such a multitude of soloists, choristers, and orchestral musicians. Unfortunately, the Mahler Eighth is a pretentious, mediocre choral symphony whose first movement is a setting of the Latin prayer ”Veni, Creator Spiritus” and whose sprawling second movement is the final scene from Part Two of Goethe’s Faust. Far from the transcendental experience the composer thought he was writing, it’s a holy bore.
That said, this recording is a solid achievement. Maazel has assembled a first-rate group of singers — including Sharon Sweet, Brigitte Fassbaender, Richard Leech, and Simon Estes — and matched them with the Vienna State Opera Chorus, the Austrian Radio Chorus, the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus, and the Vienna Boys Choir. The conductor’s often chilly sensibility becomes a plus as he lays out the huge score with clarity and detail. Maazel doesn’t try to make the Eighth more than it is — it’s enough already — but simply lets it breathe; what you hear is what you get. And what you get is worthwhile. B