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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 7
Stockholm Philharmonic / Antal Dorati
rec. live, 8 March 1972, Konserhuset, Stockholm, Sweden. Sverige Radio recording

Mahler's 7th is the most strange of his works, often the one people get to last. It is a phantasmagoric display of all those influences that are well known to all lovers of his music. Strange, definitely, even slightly mad, but hugely exciting and moving to hear. In many respects it is Mahler's most forward looking symphony. It has generated a huge amount of discussion and analysis. De La Grange, for example devotes a large number of pages of his epic study to the 7th. It is a work that comes up fresh every time. Dorati has the full measure of the piece and his orchestra, though sometimes a touch challenged, are mostly well up to the job. Indeed in the central three movements I found this cleanly delineated performance to be up with the best, capturing that skeletal quality so necessary in the two Nachtmusik movements. Dorati allows the listener to hear all the interweaving lines that characterise this piece, applying rhythmic pointing and well judged tempi from the very start through to that wild ending. The producers of this issue have chosen to use the title "Song of the Night" on the cover despite the fact that it was not Mahler's title and there seems to be no evidence he ever considered it.

The Antal Dorati Centenary Society has built up an impressive discography of Dorati recordings, including ones taken from rather homely sources. In this case we have a recording on cassette from a broadcast on FM radio. I know that cassettes could be recorded up to quite a high standard given sufficiently good recording equipment - I own a good Nakamichi from the classic period - but recording from the radio adds another set of problems, like pops from the household fridge etc. My review copy of this recording suffers a little from that and from the fact that the tape needed turning at some point. There is a fade out, in the 3rd movement, not the 5th as it says on the label, but it is handled well. The noise levels are kept fairly low and the instability inherent in such a slow-moving tape is only occasionally evident. No one could possibly treat this as their 'library' recording of the symphony. I am sure all Mahler lovers have a lot of alternative recordings, I have at least ten of the 7th.

I loved this one despite all the shortcomings of an old, live and slightly compressed recording. The key to its success is the sensible placing of microphones by Swedish Radio engineers. Like the BBC, they knew back in the 1970s how to capture a realistic sound without artifice. At the other end of the broadcasting chain there is not much base, the level is quite high and the dynamic range restricted by being sourced from fairly early stereo FM, but the magic gets through. Make no mistake, this is well worth the moderate asking price with the download even cheaper. There are no notes, just the most basic recording data.

Treat this as another recording of Mahler 7 you just have to hear.

Dave Billinge

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