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Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2011

Antoni Wit’s performance is praiseworthy…sensitive, beautifully balanced, almost modest in its adherence to Mahler’s instructions, and always focused on building the magnificent edifice so it can astound and persuade. He is blessed with fine orchestra, choruses, and vocalists

…there is some audible advantage to the Blu-ray.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, July 2011

As a recent convert to the manifold pleasures of Blu-ray video I was keen to try one of Naxos’s audio-only discs. Unfortunately my first purchase, John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus, refused to work in my player, so I was a little anxious about ordering this Wit Mahler 8, which I already have on CD. I needn’t have worried, as it all worked like a dream.

The Symphony of a Thousand is an ideal candidate for a high-res presentation, and Naxos must be congratulated for their foresight in recording this in 24-bit/96kHz stereo and surround sound as well as the standard 16-bit/44.1kHz used for the CD. I have always admired Wit’s reading of this piece, not least for its coherence and sense of drama. Not only that, he is blessed with a well-matched team of soloists, which is surprisingly rare in this work. His choirs are pretty good as well, and the balances on CD seem entirely natural. There’s no lack of thrill and amplitude either, making this one of the best Mahler 8s in the catalogue.

So how does the Blu-ray version compare? I listened in PCM stereo and from the outset I knew this was going to be a real treat. The transporting cries of ‘Veni creator spiritus’ open out as never before, the ample organ powerfully present but not overwhelming. There’s a convincing left-to-right spread—the soloists are especially well caught—and the sound has a finely etched quality that one simply doesn’t hear on the CD. But it’s the conductor’s firm grip on the music that really impresses; rarely has this first movement passed so purposefully yet still sounded so fresh and spontaneous. The rapt intensity of the singing—solos and ensembles—is a joy to hear, the pieces of this vast Mahlerian jigsaw falling into place at every turn.

The return of that opening chorus and the vast, phosphorescent surge that follows have seldom been captured with such fearless fidelity; indeed, the sense of peering down on to a packed stage from a seat in the balcony is remarkable. Ditto in Part II, where Wit and the Naxos engineers make Mahler’s colour palette glow with new vigour and vibrancy. I was simply astonished by the minute detail unearthed here, the plucked strings especially beautiful. That wouldn’t count for much if Wit’s reading wasn’t so compelling, each tableau knitting seamlessly with the next. This really is a graveyard movement for the unwary, but Wit traverses its valleys and scales its peaks with nary a stumble.

There aren’t any misjudgements among the singers either, and I’m particularly pleased that there are no wobbles and squalls. I honestly can’t remember a better bunch of soloists than that assembled here; diction is fine and there’s an almost holographic quality to their presentation that is very impressive indeed. Even the massed choirs have a discernible shape, a three-dimensionality, that one doesn’t often hear in recordings. As for the orchestra, they’re as adept in Mahler’s chamber-like passages as they are in the big set-pieces. The brass scythes through dense orchestral thickets and the timps lay down a formidable carpet of sound in the huge tuttis. And just listen to the magical harp in track 19; glorious, simply glorious.

As with all true Mahlerians, Wit has the finale of this sprawling symphony firmly in his sights from the first bar. The inexorable undertow, that tremble of anticipation, is keenly felt, especially in the transported singing of the finale. Goodness, I’d forgotten just how unerring Wit is here, the closing peroration arriving in a blaze of triumph, organ, bells and huge tam-tam hurled into one’s listening room as never before. I can only guess at how immersive this must sound in a properly configured multi-channel system.

Wit’s Mahler 8 has always been a hidden gem in the Mahler discography, and now this Blu-ray makes it shine with even more lustre than before. True, one pays a bit more for this than the CD, but the audible—and emotional—gains make this a mandatory purchase for anyone interested in superb Mahler and even better sound.

Lawrence Devoe, May 2011

The Performance

Gustav Mahler was nearing the end of his life and composing career when he penned this massive choral symphonic work in 1906. It premiered in Munich in 1910, a year before Mahler’s death. While the Eighth Symphony, also known as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” may not actually engage 1000 musicians, this premiere issue in High Definition 96 kHz/24-bit surround sound, features 8 soloists and 4 choirs. The work has two contrasting sections, the opening hymn, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” and the concluding final scene from Goethe’s Faust. It was intended to provide an overwhelming musical and spiritual experience, and to this end, Mahler largely succeeds. Antoni Wit, the director of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in this recording, has become not only one of Poland’s leading musicians but, through his many recordings, has achieved a world class status. His eight soloists, three sopranos, two altos, a tenor, baritone, and bass are nearly all Polish nationals, the exception being American tenor Timothy Bentch. This performance, initially issued in 2006 as a standard CD, was recorded in Warsaw Philharmonic Hall.

Wit has recorded most of the Mahler symphonies with these same forces but nothing previously prepared me for this particular listening experience. There was control over tempos,attention to the wide shifts in dynamics, for example, in the exuberant close of the first movement, and the nearly hushed opening of the second movement, coherence of the massive choral forces and the integration of the soloists, all attested to substantial preparation and a profound understanding of Mahler’s intentions. Taken as a whole, I was continually astonished by what I heard, in terms of inner details and overall sonic presentation. Most impressively, Maestro Wit never luxuriates in this work’s many glorious musical passages, nor does he succumb to the potential hysteria of the closing verses of Faust.

Audio Quality

The DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound track aids a work like this immensely. The sense of hall space and the depth of the orchestra and chorus was effectively conveyed. The soloists were spread across the center stage and each was clearly recorded. Although listeners outside of Poland, will be unfamiliar with these singers, these are high quality voices that work beautifully in ensemble. The large choral forces are a little distant but in live performance, they must be placed well behind both singers and orchestral players. The balance from top to bottom is exemplary. The overall sonic picture serves the score well throughout.

Supplemental Materials


The Definitive Word


At one time or another, many of the world’s leading 20th and 21st century conductors have taken on this “King Kong” of a score. Of the more than 50 available recordings, the Eighth Symphony has been very fortunate, receiving a number of outstanding readings. However, most are standard 2-channel analog or digital recordings so the space essential to a full appreciation of this mighty work is simply lacking. I have kept a soft spot in my heart for the 1971 Solti/Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording as I saw these forces perform it live in Orchestra Hall. While its soloists and orchestra are among the best ever recorded, it now seems somewhat overwrought, when compared to the present recording. If Wit’s soloists might yield some vocal ground to their better known counterparts, the whole of this recording far exceeds the sum of its parts. My yardstick for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is that it should transport the listener to a state approaching bliss. And, at its conclusion, was I ever blissful! Mahlerians, rejoice! This is a performance that you will gladly return to, over and over.

Robert Benson, April 2011

The recording is not new; it was made June 1–6, 2005 in Warsaw’s Philharmonic Concert Hall and it is obvious at the time Naxos was looking ahead to a multi-channel issue. The sense of space is extraordinary; the listener is right in the middle of the performers. Soloists are well-balanced, clear and not too prominent providing a very natural concert hall effect. I doubt the number of performers approached what Mahler wanted, but it sounds as if they are all there, and that’s what counts. Separate brass choirs are well defined, and it is stunning to hear the blazing brass from the rear. And the performance itself is among the best ever of this mammoth work, well-paced by Wit (whose neglect by major record companies is inexcusable—fortunately Naxos recognizes his merit and used him often). All of the soloists are first-rate, chorus are excellent, and the Polish orchestra is in top form.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

Blu-ray audio has been waiting for this disc to demonstrate that it offers a leap in quality compared to the change from mono to stereo. If you can take one step further and move into surround sound the results are remarkable. Yet before I become euphoric, let me again say that you need high-end audio equipment to go this final distance. Then, as I wrote in my review of the original CD in April 2006,  ‘Be prepared for the earth to shake in this massive performance!’. ‘The big and bold opening would signal an account of high drama, yet Wit sees more muted colours in the score than we have become accustomed to’. Those words are even more true when the massive dynamic range is fully exposed, the close of the first part a riot of vocal and orchestral colours. I did at the same time comment that ‘maybe it will be in the slow tempos of the score’s second part that you will have to come to terms with.’ Now revisited I would repeat that Wojtek Drabowicz’s long solo at the opening of the second part ‘is among the finest singers of the part presently available.’ The Warsaw orchestra are superb, the violin section as fine as any in Berlin or Vienna, while the brass are more rounded than in the American recordings of the work. My original comment that ‘the engineers have not faked the impact by going in close to the orchestra, so that with the chorus at full throttle some details are masked’, is now invalid for that distance is the prerequisite when heard in the clarity of surround sound. Why does the organ now become so much more present, and why do the solo sopranos sound so ethereal? That I cannot explain, but I could continue enumerating the differences. Others may follow with more versions, but for the present just luxuriate in this extraordinary release.

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