The first and most important thing to say about this new Mahler
7 is just how much fun it is. The work was composed in a very
short space of time, making it slightly redundant to speculate
about what was going round the composer's mind at the time.
Even so, listening to a recording like this, where there is
so much sheer joy in the playing, you get to wonder whether
or not he was thinking of Beethoven's 7th when he
wrote all those free-form country dances in the inside movements.
And Neeme Järvi really makes the most of all of Mahler's
orchestral effects: the mandolin, the cascading harps, the church
bells at the end. The SACD sound brings all of these added extras
to the fore. The Symphony is a prime contender for the full
SACD treatment, and Järvi makes sure that every orchestral
detail makes its way onto the recording.
I have to say, though, that I came to this disc with some trepidation.
The previous offering from these forces was a Bruckner 5 that
is an utter travesty: it's far too fast, has no nuance, no grandeur,
if it wasn't for the superior audio it would have literally
nothing going for it at all. This disc is better, but many of
the traits of Järvi's Bruckner are also to be found here.
Many of the tempi are on the fast side, and Mahler's tempo,
rubato and dynamic indications are routinely ignored.
The Seventh Symphony really requires interpretation, and there
are as many Mahler 7s as there are conductors who have tackled
it. Generally speaking they fall into two categories, the ones
who seek to repair the work's various structural problems and
present it as a conventional symphony, and those who are prepared
to give up on the overall structure and just enjoy the various
disparate sections as they appear. For all his interest in orchestral
colour, Järvi is clearly in the former category; he is
determined to make the work add up at all costs. The faster
tempi are part of his plan, as are the preparations for the
many counter-intuitive time-changes. You'll quite often find
the music drastically slowing down over the course of eight
bars or so, but without any such indication in the score. He
also makes the most of all the surprises, for example the abrupt
tutti outbursts in the midst of quiet woodwind ensembles in
the Nachtmusik movements. These are often well ahead of the
beat, refreshing the sense of surprise, even for those who know
What other surprises will you find here? Well, the horn solo
at the start of the second movement is loud and brash with the
dotted semi-quaver at the top of the phrase really clipped along.
This is exactly what it says in the score but I've never heard
it played like that before - you can forget all about Castrol
GTX. Good horn-playing all round actually - the variety of timbres
from the section is a real benefit in this superior audio. The
rest of the brass struggle, especially the trumpets, who have
a lot of notes, many of them very high, but not to the extent
of excusing this number of splits. The string section is OK.
One effect that Järvi goes easy on is the portamento that
litters the string parts. Great playing from the leader, Lucian-Leonard
Raiciof, who is pert, nimble and who appears seamlessly out
of the tutti texture, then disappears seamlessly back into it.
So what's missing from this recording? The ländler and
waltzes of the inside movements don't have the rustic abandon
you'd get from a Central European orchestra. A more serious
problem is the lack of grandeur in the outer movements. Järvi
never lingers at the climaxes, nor does he give the bottom end
of the orchestra the space to play those imitative responses
that characterise the codas. And while the tempos are fast,
there are never any extremes in the speeds. I'd have liked to
hear the Scherzo played faster, or at least a bit more lively.
I think I understand Neeme Järvi's approach to Bruckner
better for having heard this recording. Do I understand Mahler
7 any better for it? If anything, this recording is radical
for the conductor's determination to present the 7th
Symphony as a logically structured work. It isn't, but you've
got to admire his conviction in trying to persuade us otherwise.