This 2-SACD set completes the Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony Mahler cycle, unquestionably the most successful from an American orchestra and conductor since Leonard Bernstein’s iconic 1960s recordings.
Following an intense performance of the Adagio from Mahler’s incomplete Symphony No. 10, Tilson Thomas presents the vast Eighth with satisfying clarity and logic. Part I, the hymn “Veni creator spiritus,” is played with a focus and purposefulness that underscores the message of inextinguishable faith. This provides the spiritual background for Part II, Mahler’s re-telling of the final scene of Goethe’s Faust—a version of the legend with a happy ending. Faust’s soul (he’s now dead) is saved following the appearances of a series of anchorites, angels, Blessed Children, and “penitents,” including Gretchen, the woman he so egregiously wronged. The glorious closing pages have redeemed literature’s most famous sinner, and Mahler’s listeners.
There has never been a more coherent recording of the “Symphony of a Thousand” than this one. Especially in 5.0 multichannel, the performing forces—nine vocal soloists, adult and children’s choruses, and an enormous orchestra—remain intelligible, even at the most complex and roaringly powerful moments. You’ll understand Mahler’s Eighth as never before, high praise for canned music of any stripe.