Mahler: Symphony No. 7

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: San Francisco Symphony
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler – Symphony No. 7
WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: 821936-0009-2

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This maverick symphony of a thousand fantastical noises was bound to hold a special place in the most luminously engineered of all Mahler cycles. So it proves as horns call across the void, with cowbells later discreetly tinkling, in the first ‘nightmusic’ (especially atmospheric in the SACD format of this hybrid); as monsters gape in the second half of the centrepiece valse macabre; and as surges of love flood the fourth movement’s clockwork serenade. The outer movements are open to widely differing interpretations, and Tilson Thomas’s solutions may not tally with every listener’s ideal. Once the opening march is properly launched, he bounces it somewhat nimbly along; it’s hardly the grim cortege of Mahler’s self-avowed ‘tragic night without moon or stars’, let alone a weighty parallel to the first movement of Symphony No. 6. At the other end of the spectrum, the garish daylight revels of the finale are vividly articulated, but almost too cultured, rather as one might expect from this smooth, sophisticated orchestra. The whole jolly state hardly totters, as it seemed to in the adrenalin rushes of Claudio Abbado’s recent Lucerne Festival performance. That will be available soon on DVD; but until then, Abbado’s Berlin Seventh – also live – is peerless. Even so, if you’ve been following MTT’s cycle, you certainly won’t be disappointed by this latest and supernaturally beautiful-sounding release. David Nice