Leopold Stokowski

Gustav Mahler: Symphonie No. 8 In Mi Bem. Magg. "Symphonie der Tausend"

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A staunch advocate of Mahler, Leopold Stokowski gave the American premiere of the Symphony No. 8 in 1916 after witnessing Mahler's own performance of it in 1910. This historical connection -- and suppositions of authenticity one may draw from it -- lend interest to this 1950 live recording. But listeners must decide for themselves if Stokowski has faithfully followed Mahler's intentions, or if this is even the most important consideration for enjoyment. Beyond that, in choosing this recording of the "Symphony of a Thousand," one must be aware that it is a disc for specialists and collectors, and not ideal for most listeners. To become acquainted with the myriad details of this complex and majestic work, newcomers should first listen to newer digital recordings, which at least offer better sound and finer spatial separation of the choral and orchestral groups. Digital enhancements have improved the analog tape substantially, but the mono recording is still boxy, and the performers seem packed too tightly together, inducing a sense of claustrophobia that is difficult to get past. Yet Stokowski's performance is vigorous and committed, and once one is acclimatized to the compressed sound, his interpretation may be appreciated as a vital contribution to this work's discography, if not exactly the best ever.