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7.8.13

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.7 (Part 2)



This continues "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.7 (Part 1)"


Gustav Mahler in New York (detail, click to see entire picture). Picture courtesy New York Philharmonic Archives


By the time Mahler premiered his Seventh Symphony, his reputation as a conductor well exceeded that of him as a composer. He had quit the Court Opera in the summer of 1907 and traveled to the US where he conducted his first performance (a much-vaunted Tristan & Isolde) at the Metropolitan Opera on January 1st 1908. But for his Seventh he could not find a better orchestra than the so-so Czech Philharmonic (not then at the exalted level it would later achieve) to perform it with. It took Mahler 24 rehearsals to make up for the band’s shortcomings and the difficulties that the symphony’s style—new and surely very strange to the players—presented.

The youngsters Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer were both present at most or some of them; Alban Berg, Max Brod, and Alexander Zemlinsky were at the premiere; Schönberg, whom Mahler had been in close touch with during that time, was supposed to be, but had domestic concerns to look after. (His wife, pre-shadowing Mahler’s wife, pulled an “Alma” on him, and ran away with an Austrian painter.) On the 19th of September the premiere took place—and Mahler even had the trams stopped that ran by the concert hall at Stromovka Park. The Seventh wasn’t an outright flop, but Alma and Klemperer suggested that it was a respectable failure and August Spanuth describes the applause very vividly as a “demonstration of conviction that a man who could compose like this deserved applause.”
Three night pieces; bright daylight in the finale. The first movement as the base for all the rest.

Mahler to William Ritter about the Seventh Symphony)



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Symphony No.7,
G.Sinopoli / Philharmonia
DG

UK | DE | FR
The Philharmonia’s often deliberately crude brass is, as in most of Sinopoli’s recordings, a delight. None of that polite polish that, at worst, emasculates Mahler’s sound. They take back in the Nachtmusik, of course, but it’s still a rather brazen affair—the Andante amoroso like a light Ländler that doesn’t quite let the fog rise over the midnight lake. At over 87 minutes, it’s one of the broadest readings, thanks to an unusually placid Andante (17:35 compared to Kondrashin’s 10:53!). In the very un-ironic sounding finale he is expectedly thunderous and mighty. Ba-da-boom. Perhaps most like Mahler intended, too: who, according to Henri-Louis de La Grange (v.iv) treated that movement as “an unequivocal paean of joy...”, never having said or suggested anything about that supremely ambiguous composition that he took it “for anything other than a happy celebration of the bright light of day”.

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Symphony No.7,
M.Gielen / SWRSO
Hänssler

UK | DE | FR
Not very misty or shadowy, but very colorful and with plenty wit is Gielen’s Seventh. The first movement, a belting and blaring mess of carefree dissonance and coyly calculated mayhem before and after its calm, tender zenith, is shaped very nicely. The whole symphony strikes me as very coherent with him and the fabulously skilled (yet raw when necessary) SWF Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden / Freiburg. It hasn’t Abbado’s Nachtmusik to offer, but an opening about as intriguing as Barenboim and a finale not much less exciting than Boulez’—certainly one of the many strong points in Gielen’s Mahler cycle.
In the first movement's scrubland of hate—stormy, agitated, twilit—man forges ahead on towards the horizon. Tragic resolution, broken by disturbed silences, a world of struggles, exertions and threats. Suddenly glimpses of a new world—before we return to the struggle.

(This and the following four excerpts are loose paraphrases from William Ritter's description of the movements of the Seventh.)



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Symphony No.7,
O.Klemperer / Philharmonia
EMI

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Symphony No.7,
MTT / San Francisco
SFS Media


UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Symphony No.7,
V.Gergiev / LSO
LSO Live


UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Symphony No.7,
S.Rattle / CBSO
EMI

UK | DE | FR
Klemperer is a sweet perversion—interesting as such but difficult to take seriously at over 100 minutes when 70 to 80 are the norm—reinforcing the Schleppmeister stereotype that his Mahler Second nearly shakes. Klemperer’s very “Meistersingerish” finale can better be had with Boulez (or Barenboim) without completely squelching the ma energico of the finale. But it might also be the best recording to break the limiting Bernstein-mould into which many ears fall, if that was their first exposure. MTT (SACDLogo_Klein2) surprised negatively with his strangely strident middle movements… especially since the Seventh is the symphony I thought he would be most likely to create something special after his gentle and beautifully carved Second and Ninth.

Gergiev (SACDLogo_Klein2) is oddly bland with the LSO and manages to be overtaken in thrill and atmosphere by Rattle’s live recording with the Birmingham SO at the Aldenburgh Festival which is very fine, recommendable even, but gets by without making that last necessary bit of a—any—particular impression.
Nachtmusik: pieces which take place during night, not 'nocturnes'! Nothing sweet, veiled, calm, dreamy, or floating here. This nocturnal music can be lurid and wild like night in a sea-port. When night falls, bestiality awakes in the figurative forest of Mahler's soul. We enter a world of phantasms and terrors and enchanted retreats.


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Symphony No.7,
D.Zinman / ZTO
RCA


UK | DE | FR
David Zinman’s recording (SACDLogo_Klein2) is, as most of his Mahler, a little tame, a little moderate, and very, very sensitive and ‘musical’. There is no movement that stands out, but the overall impression is much kinder than the sum of its parts. Certainly for those who want surround sound and high definition and are willing to care for the delicious inner details that Zinman tickles out of the score, this is a good choice. The main contention comes from Mariss Jansons’ brand new recording on the newly founded BR Klassik label (SACDLogo_Klein2). Since the classical channel of the Bavarian Broadcasting Service records and broadcasts its digital channel in high-definition and surround, the recording engineers make use of the available material and issue the discs as hybrid SACDs. Jansons, not unlike Salonen, Abbado, and from the sound of it: Zinman, has a take on Mahler that is composed, rather than neurotic. He doesn’t add Angst or underline the nervous, torn, sardonic elements. The result is awfully well behaved Mahler, twice to very boring effect in the Sixth Symphony...
This Scherzo explains all our antipathy and all our love: Always alternating and simultaneous Mahlerian delights and menagerie; divine melodies, swooning harmonies, and grotesque timbres. Like a 'pointillist' Botticelli illustrating Dante.


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G.Mahler, Symphony No.7,
M.Jansons / BRSO
BR Klassik


In the Seventh Symphony, however, this calm pays dividends in the first four movements. Jansons offers a fluidity throughout the work that belies the Seventh’s anything but organic structure. And in the finale he offers hearting force that allows for the many subtle and unsubtle references to shine through; not just the Meistersinger bits, but also the jubilant trills from the first act finale of Tristan & Isolde and the pre-shadows of his own 8th Symphony. Then the music shudders, and, as if it remembered its roots, races down the scales to its own end, accompanied by the now familiar cowbells that ring in the oddly discordant farewell. The clarity of the structure and the precision of each instrumentalist of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra are very persuasive and just make this my first choice among the Mahler Sevenths on SACD. Where most recordings lose details like the fourth movement mandolin contribution, (usually reduced to a single plucked sound) every note can be heard with Jansons and—interestingly—Bernstein (Sony). The point that the recording is the world premiere recording of the new critical edition of the International Gustav Mahler Society (Boosey & Hawkes, Bote & Bock) will be of interest to scholars and the few very obsessed.
The fourth movement is a serenade, weak with pelasure, moist with languor, a blur, a dream.. pearled with the dew of silver tears, falling drop by drop from a guitar and a mandolin.


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Symphony No.7,
G.Schwarz / RyLPO
Artek

UK | DE | FR
The Seventh also seems to bring the best out in Gerard Schwarz and his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Artek). The other releases of his don’t necessarily merit mention, but in the Seventh he finds a vibe that resonates with the music. The portamentos of the strings (check the beginning of the fourth movement, for example) and the occasional crudeness of the orchestra add lots of color and his Scherzo is nicely torn and shadowy, despite (or because?) of being one of the faster on record. The sound of Schwarz’ is fine but bested by any number of modern recordings, especially MTT and Jansons even without the SACD advantage.
And now, in the finale, full sunlight and the final miracle. Mahler takes possession on the most blatant way of the Meistersinger Overture and makes it his, appropriating its framework and then unleashing passionate and furious dances of his own invention. This luminous folly unfolds in perpetual fresh starts and variations. A hymn to joy along with cowbells and the whole, extraordinary, motley of Mahlerian percussion. Then a sharp break, a most abrupt, unexpected end, as if the composer were snapping his conductor's baton in two and throwing it at us.


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G.Mahler, Symphony No.7,
K.Kondrashin / Leningrad PO
Melodiya

One absolutely outstanding recording last: Kyrill Kondrashin with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra on Melodiya from 1975. It is the only symphony from his Russian cycle that is generally available as a single disc—and rightly so. Although one of the quickest performances on record, it isn’t at all short of atmosphere (something that marginally compromises his fine Sixth). Quite the contrary. The brass is uniquely Russian, with a soft vibrato that perfectly fits the wobbly atmosphere. There’s more than a hint of roughness in the playing (and a little in the vividly recorded sound), but it all contributes to a magnificent goal of propelling the symphony along in its strangely wayward ways. So what if he dips the oars that inspired Mahler for the rhythm of the first movement when crossing the Wörthersee a little faster than most boatmen might? The nervous, torn quality of this reading—not the least the meticulously irregular, riveting beat in his matchless central movement—is enough to forgo any elements other conductors exceed in—except for Abbado’s Nacht, Barenboim’s first, and Boulez’ last movements, of course.


The font used in the title is "Fashion Engraved"

Mahler 7 Choices


1. Claudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker, DG

2. Daniel Barenboim, Staatskapelle Berlin, Warner

3. Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra, DG

4. Kyrill Kondrashin, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Melodiya

5. Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic, DG

Mahler 7 SACD Choice


1. Mariss Jansons, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, BR Klassik


Find a list of the ex-WETA Mahler Posts here: http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2009/12/mahler-survey.html