Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63510 2
The first movement of this symphony should be uncomfortable, with its hysterical mood swings, from the opening funeral march, through the lyrical passages at its centre, to its bitter conclusion. Tilson Thomas draws beautiful playing from the LSO, but it’s all rather directionless and bland. That opening – shuddering strings setting the scene for a mourning tenor horn solo – is very precisely played, but without any sense of foreboding. And when the first allegro arrives, the dotted rhythms sound jaunty rather than sinister. It’s partly a matter of believing and following Mahler’s detailed markings in the score, particularly the hundreds of little accents and abrupt crescendos: without them everything becomes ironed out. That’s even more the case in the first ‘Night Music’, and the central scherzo, where things really do need to go bump in the night. And it’s where Bernstein scores heavily, giving full rein to Mahler’s eccentricities, with an absolutely sure sense of where the music is going. The second ‘Night Music’, a serenade-like interlude, is the most successful movement in Tilson Thomas’s version, striking a simple, unassuming note, and full of good solo work from the LSO principals. And the finale starts well, with the right unrestrained exuberance, though some of the later episodes get bogged down, and the final triumph doesn’t quite come. So Bernstein still has it, with his second version having the added frisson of being recorded live – the ideal situation for a piece where you really have to go for it. Martin Cotton