Symphony No. 7 in E minor ‘Song of the Night’
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS BIS-2386 76:59 mins
Osmo Vänskä’s apparent eccentricities here are mostly to accentuate Mahler’s own in his most outlandish and unpredictable symphony. Concerns that the interpretation would be too extreme to serve the score vanished after the extraordinarily protracted handling of the first movement’s lyrical counter-theme, the very opposite of the asked-for Schwung (this is static to the point of cryogenic suspension). The first movement does start impressively with the fullest tenor saxhorn solo I’ve ever heard – and how hair-raisingly it does battle with trombone in the quick plunge back into the dark after the central vision. All the brass do the Minnesota Orchestra proud, and if the strings aren’t up to central-European richness, Vänskä usually moulds them to produce the desired effect.
Certainly the unceasingly vigilant and nuanced vision of the inner movements is up there with the best, and even surpasses every other version in the ghosts’ high noon of the haunted-ballroom central scherzo. The second ‘Night Music’, with its Andante amoroso serenade challenging the last nocturnal shadows, has a perfect poise between romantic impulse and proto-Webernish pinpointing of sounds. That led me to hope that Vänskä would get the tricky sunlit carnival of the finale right. He nearly does, but the later stages still slightly outstay their welcome in a way that they don’t with Abbado or Jansons. Still, the sounds are beguiling to the last, and the essential triumph of engineering in this most testing of symphonies is peerless.