This massive work is Mahler at his most extravagant, requiring a huge orchestra, chorus, children's choir and eight vocal soloists. I have a number of recordings, including memorable ones by Sinopoli, Haitink, Solti and Abbado, among others, but this new one is superb. For one, this piece absolutely begs for demonstration-quality sound, and on that criterion alone this disc succeeds triumphantly. From the thundering opening which includes the Concertgebouw's magnificent pipe organ, you know you are in for a spectacular sonic experience, and Decca's engineers deserve the warmest congratulations.
It is Chailly, however, whose natural dramatic instincts serve him so well, in this most "operatic" of all of Mahler's works. Interestingly, he proceeds at a fairly deliberate pace from the outset, as opposed to say, Solti, whose Eighth is beautifully played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra but much more driven. I was startled initially by Chailly's tempo, but with each hearing, his concepts seem to make more and more sense. Mahler's orchestration is complex, and this deliberate, majestic approach reveals every bit of the textures and counterpoint - and as someone else noted, only increases the work's cumulative power. The ending of Part One, with the combined orchestral and vocal forces at full blast, is pretty jaw-dropping.
Part Two opens with an orchestral interlude, and the playing here is just exquisite. The movement proceeds through gorgeous set pieces for the vocalists (all excellent), not to mention the charming contribution of the children's choir. The chorus is also outstanding, and the orchestra - let's face it - is incomparable in this score. Mahler demands extreme brilliance from every single musician, and this is a group that seemingly accepts the challenge with pleasure, melding virtuosity with the work's heart-on-sleeve emotional content. The closing pages, especially the celestial final measures, may have you reaching for a handkerchief - while simultaneously checking that your ceiling is still intact.
Like one of the reviewers below, I was also in the audience for two performances of the Eighth, live in the Concertgebouw. However, for me this CD does duplicate the magic of those experiences. But that said, almost any recording of the Eighth cannot match the power of hearing it live, and therefore, a certain disappointment may be almost a given.
I find Chailly's somewhat unconventional approach to Mahler invigorating, though some may prefer the impact and momentum offered by someone like Solti. But if other versions have left you cold, this one is well worth hearing.
Just do your neighbors a favor and make sure they're out for the evening.