Ozawa's tenure with Boston was not very happy, towards the end of its stretch, which muddles our memory of him as a conductor. But at his best, he had the ability to be truly spell-binding and when the BSO/Ozawa affair was still young, they could create magic. This recording from 1980 is such an occasion.
This is far and away the best recording of Mahler's 8th owing to an intensity that is not matched by even the best of contenders (Abbado (DG), Bernstein (DG), Sinopoli (DG) with reservations: Kubelik (Audite), Nagano (HMU)). This is the Solti anti-dote. For all those who don't understand why the famous Solti Decca recording (great sound, good singers) is so hyped by the (English) press, here is what they need. Unlike Solti, who does not seem to understand the drug-hazed Goethe's Faust II or, indeed, the abstruse mysticism of the Mahler 8th and consequently energetically drives through it with elan, speed and determination (all good qualities in most other works, but not here), Ozawa gives this --frankly: weird-- work all the time it needs to develop. (Not excessively so, either - 80 minutes is enough for him and not all that much, on paper, to spend on this work.)
He does not let it sag, but rolls out the wafty, nebulous, foggy, misty parts so tenderly, so other-worldly (and with no audible gear changes whenever he nudges the work forward again), that in a very eerie, beautiful way, times seems to stand still. After a mighty, powerful, broad Veni, Creatur, Spiritus (23:07), a marvel itself, he lunges into Faust II. Although 'lunge' is probably not the proper word: He carves it out of the score and supported by a cast of singers that, seemingly infected by the momentous occasion, outdo themselves, delivers the most satisfying reading of this second movement. Better yet, he crowns it with an indescribably perfect Chorus Mysticus. For me, a performance of the 8th stands and falls with "Alles Vergaengliche", and Ozawa's 6:02 are like a one-way ticket to heaven. Whatever negative things have been said about Ozawa's Boston Mahler (his Saito Kinen 2nd is actually excellent; the 9th with that band very good, too), this performance alone should have redeemed him.
This is a marvellous performance of Mahler's symphonic masterpiece. Ozawa paces the performance to perfection and everyone responds to his direction in a very persuasive way. I never tire of the fantastic contrasts he brings out within this work, from the busy vocal and orchestral opening to the delicate E major celesta & flute dialogue towards the end, culminating in that thrilling final chorus 'Alles Vergangliche'.