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Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 7
19 Jan 2011

Mahler: Symphony no. 7

Based on performances give between 3 and 5 November 2005 at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, the recent release of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 7

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Gerard Schwarz, conductor.

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While the Seventh had been something of a stepchild among Mahler’s symphonies, conductors in the late twentieth century began to champion the work that analysts like Adorno had sometimes disparaged. Gerard Schwarz offers a solid interpretation of the Seventh Symphony that merits attention from start to finish. Schwarz’s reading of the first movement is engaging because of the tension between the sometimes expansive content and tight structure, a detail that emerges readily in this interpretation. The convention of a slow introduction that contrasts the exposition is a gesture that reaches back to the formative years of the Austro-German symphony, and Schwarz brings out these connections convincingly. At the same time, he allows the various combinations of motifs in the development to emerge through the varying tone colors, all the while guiding the direction of the movement as he leads to the recapitulation. Even there, the reprise of ideas is not an end in itself, as the piece finds the ultimate resolution in the well-paced coda.

Schwarz treats the second movement in a similarly masterful way, with the soaring melodic ideas fitting into the open-ended title of the piece as Nachtmusik, a vague idea that allows listeners to drawn connections on their own to the vivid, but ultimately non-programmatic score. This is an effective reading of the movement, with the musical space created by the off-stage instruments adding a sonic distance to the sound of the orchestra.

In a similar way the Scherzo’s marking “schattenhaft,” or “shadowy” also conveys a since of darkness that emerges readily in this performance. The Scherzo has the sense of a well-prepared drama, as the ideas follow each other with logically. If this recording seems a little brisk, it is nonetheless satisfying. In this sense, it sets up the second “Nachtmusik,” the lingering slow movement that serves as the counterpart to the second movement. Schwarz’s interpretation is appropriately romantic, with the rich orchestration nicely articulated. The strings are at the core of the movement, and the tone is a point of reference for the various winds and brass that intersect, with the movement ending so convincingly that the opening of the Finale truly comes as a bit of a surprise.

As with the Scherzo, the Rondo-Finale seems initially brisk, but the quick tempo is not an affection. Rather, Schwarz established a momentum that allows him to fit the contrasting episodes into his conception of the entire movement. This musical logic contributes to the success of the movement, which can sound like a series of loosely connected episodes in the hands of some conductors. Instead, Schwarz offers a nice balance between the rondo theme and the episodes, so that the movement leads to the concluding passages with which the entire symphonic structure comes to a satisfying ending.

Those unfamiliar with Schwarz’s interpretations of Mahler’s music may find this recording to be a good introduction. Other recent Mahler discs by Schwarz include his reading of the Ninth Symphony, also with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. While the balance is occasionally tipped toward the brass and winds, this never gets in the way of hearing Schwarz’s interpretation. Likewise, the horns sound sometimes a bit pushed, but that is a small quibble in the larger context of a laudable effort.

James L. Zychowicz

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