Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 7
Valery Gergiev, cond; London SO
LSO LIVE 665 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 72:00) Live: London 3/2008
Mahler’s symphonies are so completely differentiated one from another that it’s hardly surprising that a totally satisfying traversal through the nine (or 10) seems a
virtual impossibility; the upside, though, is that it is possible to appreciate a conductor’s performance of one symphony while disliking another. I wasn’t attracted to Gergiev’s Sixth, finding monotony amidst the rush of the tempos, while his First lacked atmosphere and offered surprisingly crude sound. His Seventh, on the other hand, is a very different matter.
Even if we reject the bogus sobriquet “Song of the Night,” there should be no doubt that “Nachtmusik” is of more than just nominal significance. Gergiev captures that mood with a dark-hued performance that capitalizes on the most extensive use of tone-painting in Mahler’s
. The first movement is almost oppressive, aided by a deep, bass-heavy sound that produces impressive climaxes; there is ample instrumental detailing, warmth in the C-Major theme (and its restatement in the recapitulation), and a central B-Major episode that is highly evocative, with its trumpet fanfares, harp glissandos, and piping piccolo. The coda’s quick-march is ebullient.
Gergiev’s tempos expose the humor that is too often absent or short-changed; the first “Night Music” sets a crisp military pace, its symmetrical structure clearly apprehended through differentiation of the three thematic cells. The Scherzo’s “shadowy” nature is established by subdued, skeletal entries. The ghostly dance then enters with tipsy abandon amid tuba grunts and skittering strings. As the music lurches along, it is more comic than scary, despite baleful brass and punctuating timpani. The fourth-movement serenade places the guitar and mandolin front and center, projecting a chamber-like intimacy; the brisk tempo lends it a degree of ardor, while the
of the marking is found in the swell and sighing of the violins.
A quick-paced cannonade opens the finale, reestablishing the martial atmosphere of the second movement, while the tempo removes any hint of pomposity. The series of ritornellos, at this speed, quickly becomes a showpiece for the orchestra, and the LSO is more than equal to the task. Whether this movement is seen as a parody or as a festive stepchild of
or both, Gergiev exploits every bravura measure, not neglecting the occasional contrasting pause in the mad rush.
There are just a handful of recordings of this “difficult” symphony that I can recommend without reservation: Bernstein on Sony and DG (both with the NYP); Abbado on DG (most recently in Berlin); Barenboim on Warner, and Tilson Thomas with the SFS (the only other version available on SACD). I would place this new performance among that select group without hesitation. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 7 in E minor by Gustav Mahler
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1904-1905; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 3/2008
Venue: Live London, England
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