Mahler: Symphonies Nos 7, 8 & 9 Conducted by Lorin Maazel

The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Lorin Maazel
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 7, 8 & 9
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 362

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With Lorin Maazel’s recent death, this final instalment of the Mahler cycle he recorded live with the Philharmonia in 2011 becomes his testament. And those who share his apparent conviction that the only way to renew these familiar scores is to emphasise and push to extremes their every dynamic marking or tempo modification will find many moments of expressive force or vivid texture to admire here. But the drawback of this approach is that it tends to interrupt flow and the large-scale unfolding of form. All three readings are inordinately slow: the Seventh Symphony, which, at around 78 minutes, usually fits on one CD, lasts nearly 88 minutes, requiring two, while both the Eighth and Ninth are around ten minutes longer than most rival versions.

The opening movement of Symphony No. 7 begins exceptionally stiffly and only really approaches the fiery allegro feeling Mahler asks for in its final minutes – though the three ensuing Nachtmusik movements are nicely enough characterised. The Eighth, by contrast, opens with a choral-orchestral paean of tremendous power, only to slacken into dulcet entropy in the ensuing lyrical passages for the soloists – a lack of intentness that persists more or less throughout the vast second movement finale. The mannered, dragging tempo of much of the opening Andante comodo of the Ninth Symphony is especially sad in what is arguably Mahler’s most complex and masterly symphonic structure. This is not helped by the Royal Festival Hall acoustic, which offers clean sound in quieter passages but, in loud tuttis, tends to shrillness at the top and confused balances in mid-range textures.

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However, the ensuing Ländler is played with real pungency and Maazel does succeed in delivering the Adagio finale as a slow, unified sweep of feeling. How the Philharmonia strings manage to sustain intensity in a mere thread of sound through those halting, valedictory final bars is something to marvel at. Bayan Northcott