Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 7 in E minor (1905)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. 17-18 August 2005, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland
Director: Michael Beyer
Picture format: 16:9/NTSC
Sound: PCM stereo, DTS HD Master Audio Surround Sound
Region: 0 (worldwide)
EUROARTS BLU-RAY 205 4624 [78:00]
Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne Mahler cycle is not complete, yet Euroarts have already decided to reissue the DVDs on Blu-ray. The superior sound and picture quality of the newer format is a given, but I was impressed with what I heard and saw on Abbado’s DVD of the Fourth Symphony and Rückert-Liederreview.
Without exception, the handful of ballet, concert and opera Blu-rays I own are visual and sonic treats, so it’s disappointing to report that Euroarts have hit some snags with these Mahler reissues. There were sound problems with the ‘Resurrection’ – now rectified – and the audio menus on the Blu-ray of the Fourth were switched. As for the recently released Blu-ray box set, the packaging indicates that Nos. 5 and 6 are in PCM stereo only; in fact, they are in DTS HD Master Surround as well.
Abbado has recorded two Mahler Sevenths on CD, first in Chicago and then in Berlin. Both are very desirable versions of this symphony. Many will prefer the maestro’s later, more authoritative account, but I have an enduring loyalty to the earlier one. It’s hard to fathom why, other than to say the Chicago recording has a warmth and affection that I don’t always hear from the Berliners. And while both orchestras are in fine fettle, the Lucerners are in another league entirely. Just sit back and savour that strange ur-tune for tenor horn at the start of the Adagio; has it ever sounded this arresting, this ear-prickingly present? In a movement that’s apt to stutter and stumble Abbado makes it sound so sure-footed, so goal-directed, and that augurs well for the rest of this reading.
Camerawork is as discreet and unfussy as I’ve come to expect from veteran director Michael Beyer; the picture is sharp and colours true. Sonically, the brass are very well caught – the trombones in particular – but timps are a tad boomy and cymbals much too shy. Indeed, the sound on this Blu-ray – in PCM stereo at least – strikes me as somewhat processed; not something I’ve noticed on the DVDs. These quibbles aside, this is shaping up to be a magnificent 7, Abbado visibly delighted at the end of a riveting, momentous Adagio.
The chatter and call of the first Nachtmusik has seldom seemed so atmospheric, the fell of night so tactile. Abbado brings out every nuance in the score, that tripping little tune beautifully articulated. There’s affection aplenty, but not at the expense of detail and momentum; as for the deep brass and sawing basses, they are tellingly conveyed, that series of minor epiphanies culminating in a final gong shimmer that will surely induce a sympathetic shiver or two. That said, the central Scherzo is even weirder, every tic and convulsion highlighted as never before. The sheer poise and precision of individual sections and players is just remarkable – what a peerless band this is.
If, like me, you’re easily distracted in the second Nachtmusik this reading will come as a pleasant surprise. It’s another of those left-field Mahler movements that can so easily be misjudged; not here, Abbado alive to every small shift of hue and texture, underlining just how astonishing this music really is. The guitar and mandolin are easily heard and the movement passes all too soon, buoyed by alert playing and sensible speeds. Only in the orchestral swells does the sound lose focus; otherwise it’s rich and sonorous, the horns especially splendid.
Pitched straight into the Rondo-Finale we’re given a taut, muscular view of what often seems a rhetorical, undecided movement. In between the attack of timps and bay of brass the dance-like episodes are given a wonderful lilt. And like Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter and his trusty steed – pursued by witches and warlocks – the music gallops across the drawbridge to triumph and safety. It’s a bracing ride, greeted by a well-deserved roar of approval.
This is a mighty, long-shadowed Mahler Seventh; Abbado confronts all its quirks and quiddities and persuades us this is how the symphony should go. If only the sonics were up to the standards of more recent Blu-rays this would be even more desirable. Still, if I were to award stars for sound and performance – as one of our rivals is wont to do – I’d happily give it 8/10.
Dan Morgan
A mighty, long-shadowed Mahler Seventh.