Nobody has gotten under the skin of this symphony the way Riccardo Chailly has. I also own the Solti recording, and while I love it, I have to admit that I like this one better. Where Solti takes the symphony at a fairly brisk tempo, and points up the sforzando accents, Chailly plays it much more slowly. In fact, when I first played the CD, I was surprised at the speed, but I've come to realize that the more broad tempi allow both the power and the detail of Mahler's score to come across just as they should. Chailly never lets the tension flag, and his sense of architecture is utterly faultless. Listen to the way he builds to the climaxes in the first movement; the power and sense of arrival is breathtaking. But the end of the symphony is even grander--you truly hear the whole universe ringing, as Mahler intended.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has more than enough technique and power for this piece, and when you really think about it, it's amazing that Chailly was able to control the whole orchestra, the soloists, and the several choirs. The combination of Decca's recording and the stunning acoustics of the Concertgebouw hall convey all this in faithful, clear sound.
This symphony is practically an oratorio, so a good set of vocalists is very important. This recording gathers some of the most talented dramatic voices singing today. Ben Heppner and Jane Eaglen stand out in particular. Nobody hoots or yells here, and they make a great ensemble too.
Mahler's eighth is a monument of classical music--in fact, the hugest work in the standard repetoire, and probably ought to be approached after getting familiar with the more well known symphonies. But if you like Mahler even a little, or enjoy your music BIG and sonically breathtaking--and ideally performed, then the buck stops here, with this recording of the eighth.