- Symphony No. 8 in E flat major ("Symphony of a Thousand")
On this 2007 double disc, which completes his series of recordings of Gustav Mahler's symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon, Pierre Boulez leads the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Berlin State Opera Chorus, the Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus, the Aurelius Boys Choir of Calw, and eight vocal soloists in an earnest but unconvincing reading of the "Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, Symphony of a Thousand." The performance is full of finely wrought details and wonderful highlights of the rich orchestration; but much like his other Mahler recordings, Boulez is inordinately focused on the minutiae of the score, so he misses the overall trajectory of the work and deprives it of steady propulsion and a feeling of urgency. This enormous symphony becomes almost misshapen due to slack tempos, and it sags the most during the long, rhapsodic vocal interludes, where the singers seem to have been given too much liberty to determine the pace; the music only picks up steam in the fast choral episodes, where Mahler's counterpoint creates its own momentum and pushes the music forward. Still, it's hard to completely dismiss this recording, since Boulez does get many parts right and creates a beautiful, otherworldly atmosphere that reflects the spirituality of the texts, the "Veni Creator Spiritus" and the last act of Goethe's Faust. Some listeners may wonder if this recording is the equal of Boulez' acclaimed 2006 recording of the "Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Resurrection," but it is much less compelling intellectually, less satisfying emotionally, and far from being a definitive recording of the work. For a superior version of the "Symphony No. 8," try Georg Solti's legendary 1971 performance on Decca, which has yet to be matched for technical brilliance, expressive depth, formal coherence, and sonic clarity. Here, DG's sound is clear and clean, though the choirs seem a bit recessed and lacking in presence in Berlin's resonant Jesus-Christus-Kirche.