What a gigantic change since my teenager years in the Fifties: then the Gustav Mahler vogue was just starting, propelled by the long-playing records. By the time the CDs arrived around 1985 the battle was won, with several integrals of the symphonies available, and our city had heard all of them. Nine plus the initial Adagio of the Tenth written from 1888 to 1910, all of them in a style completely his own and each building a sonorous world of astonishing innovation in the final stretches of the Post-Romantic period, just before tonality would be smashed by Schönberg, starting a new era.
Four of the symphonies add voices to the always big orchestra: Nos. 2, 3 and 4 require them in some movements, the Second having a stupendous Finale for soprano, mezzosoprano and an ample choir; but only the Eighth is completely vocal-symphonic and with the most vast array ever written up to that year (1907): eight soloists, two mixed choirs and a children´s one. I know of only one symphony that even exceeds it: Havergal Brian´s "Gothic Symphony" (1927), never done here and recorded at least once.
Mahler was a great conductor and his genius for orchestration comes from that absorbing profession; but he also knew everything about singing for he was the head of the Vienna Opera. The Eighth demands three sopranos, two contraltos, tenor, baritone and bass; everyone is sorely taxed by the composer but not beyond the frontier of possibility.
There are only two parts, each enormously complex: the first, "Veni Creator Spiritus", on a hymn by the Medieval priest Rabanus Maurus, is an exalted motet of extremely difficult counterpoint and lasts about 25 minutes. The second takes an hour and is based on the last scene of Part II of Goethe´s "Faust"; its content is clearly metaphysical, and it´s worth consigning the Latin appellations of the soloists, although they sing in German: the sopranos: Magna Peccatrix, Una Poenitentium, Mater Gloriosa; the contraltos, Mulier Samaritana and Maria Aegyptiaca; tenor, Doctor Marianus; baritone, Pater Ecstaticus; bass, Pater Profundus. The music goes from the first slow, pianissimo minutes, to ever greater expansion until the glorious final chorus.
Of course both the logistics and cost of putting on the Eighth are daunting. If I remember right, this was only the fourth time it was presented here: our great Mahlerian, Pedro Calderón, managed the prowess twice, decades ago; and Alejo Pérez, with the Argentino forces, dared the challenge both at La Plata and at our Luna Park. All three were meticulously prepared and much to the credit of the conductors. Now it was Enrique Arturo Diemecke, who has shown his mettle in Mahler both with the BA Philharmonic and the National Symphony, who was at the helm of the Colón Estable (Resident) Orchestra.
Franz-Paul Decker was twice frustrated for there was no way to conciliate the rehearsal hours of the Philharmonic and the Colón Chorus. The way out was used now: the Estable has no such problem. As to the second chorus, current political conditions allow the collaboration of the Coro Polifónico Nacional.
Diemecke again marvelled with his superlative memory and conducted by heart, always in command of even the toughest moments. The phrasing and tempi were mostly right and the inexactitudes few, and as he communicated his enthusiasm to all concerned, this was quite a success. I did feel that that the second choir was acoustically relegated but I see no solution for that; perhaps the upper floors heard it differently, as the sound rises.
The Coro Estable was prepared by Miguel Martínez; the Polifónico, by Darío Marchese; and the Children, by César Bustamante; all did their best. And the Orchestra was very good; concentrated, they responded with "esprit de corps" to the conductor.
The soloists were surely the best that can be assembled here. Both Jaquelina Livieri and Daniela Tabernig rose to the frequent high Cs of the hymn and gave expression to their music in the Goethe characters; the short appearance in a loge of Paula Almerares as Mater Gloriosa was purely sung. Both Guadalupe Barrientos and Alejandra Malvino were very accomplished in their contralto parts. Enrique Folger was strongly voiced though rather forced as Doctor Marianus; Alejandro Meerapfel sang nobly as Pater Ecstaticus; and Fernando Radó was splendid as Pater Profundus (he is having an important European career).
The Eighth was offered twice, as is logical considering the effort, and will stand as a high point of the season.
For Buenos Aires Herald