MAHLER Symphony No 8 (Fischer)
The Utah Symphony were the first American orchestra to record a complete Mahler cycle. Under Thierry Fischer, Utah’s music director since 2009, they have mounted another Mahler cycle in celebration of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary. The Eighth was recorded live in two performances at Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle in February 2016.
And a lovely thing it is. Thierry Fischer is clearly a Mahlerian to contend with, full of ideas and with the wherewithal to execute them. Soloists are well chosen for the contrasting qualities of their voices, a distinct plus for the characterisations in Part 2. The combined forces of the 392-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the 51 choristers of the Madeleine Choir School don’t quite equal the 850 voices at Mahler’s disposal for the 1910 premiere, but they provide plenty of vocal heft. Both groups are superbly prepared. The orchestra have never sounded better, with a notably fine wind choir. Soundmirror, responsible for recording and post-production under Reference Recordings’ aegis, have captured the famous acoustic of the Mormon Tabernacle with remarkable skill.
The degree of extended exultation in the ‘Veni Creator’ can overwhelm to the point of exhaustion. One of the great strengths of this performance, however, is that the mighty power surge unleashed by the full organ E flat chord spans the entire movement like a giant rainbow. Within, tensions build and subside, colours darken and reignite but, above it all, a giant arc spans the entire 22 minutes of the hymn. It’s an arc than contains, elevates and animates Mahler’s golden textures, lending the entire ‘Veni Creator’ a rare coherence and shapely splendour. During the orchestral interludes, Fischer is particularly adept at recalibrating the momentum. The result is an ecstasy that soars but never threatens to veer out of control.
If one might wish for greater dynamic contrasts in the Faust scene, a pungent atmosphere – alternately desolate, yearning, supplicating, ascendant – is nevertheless achieved with considerable nuance and subtlety. The soloists acquit themselves marvellously, with Markus Werba’s Pater Ecstaticus and Barry Banks’s Pater Marianus particular standouts. Apart from the pleasures of so much excellent music-making, one feels that Fischer has added something to our collective wisdom about Mahler’s realisation of Goethe.
This Mahler Eighth may not replace your favourite, be it by Horenstein or Stokowski, Bernstein or Solti, Sinopoli or Abbado, but it will surely complement any of them in its grand trajectory, intelligence, clarity and beautiful sound.