S&H Concert Review

Mahler Symphony No 7 LSO/Michael Tilson Thomas Barbican 5 November 00 (PGW)

Complete cycles apart, the Seventh is the most infrequently heard of Mahler's orchestral symphonies. Having enjoyed the cycle Michael Tilson Thomas gave with the LSO a few years back, it was good to renew acquaintance with this five movement monster, played without a break and standing on its own, no doubt to the caterers' dismay.

Mahler has become popular with the concert going public, which likes a large orchestra for its money, and has become a fertile field for specialists. Not having a score available, it would be presumptuous to attempt to review this performance in detail. The LSO is currently in great form, and this symphony offers tremendous scope for colour and virtuosity. They responded to Tilson Thomas's steering, negotiating with aplomb the numerous tempo and mood changes and encouraging the strings in their swooping portamenti. The tenor tuba made a brave noise, the cowbells were more convincing than in a recent performance in Spain of the 6th, but I thought the mandolin was rather lost, pecking away near the back.

A few random thoughts came to mind. Having been listening to Bach before breakfast that Sunday, I was struck by the 'French style' heavily dotted rhythm at the beginning. This led me on to ponder how Mahler is a contrapuntalist even more than a supreme orchestral colourist. What of the 'problematic' finale - joyous and triumphant or merely hard-driven and hectic? Tony Duggan, in his magisterial survey of Mahler's Symphonies for MotW, feels it is 'grand, warm, affirmative and essentially ceremonial'. I sensed in it ambivalence, like that of the finale of Shostakovich 5. If Shostakovich 4 is his most Mahlerian, is Mahler 7 the most Shostakovian? I stray well outside my fields of expertise! Readers of MotW & S&H are well catered for by Mahler devotees and should go straight to http://musicweb-international.com/Mahler/Mahler7.htm where Duggan gives a strong recommendation to Tilson Thomas's recorded interpretation of the Mahler Seventh with the LSO (RCA (09026 63510 2)


Peter Grahame Woolf

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