Mahler: Symphony No. 7 - Nott
Tudor SACD 7176
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 7 in E minor
Jonathan Nott (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - March 5, 2012
Another remarkable disc in Nott's traversal of the Mahler canon.
Once again, he starts from the firm foundation of strict adherence to the score and this, together with the antiphonally placed violins, creates a balance that emphasises the strangeness of this work. Compared to the current doyen of Mahler conductors, Abbado, brass and strings are given a more equal stature with that of the woodwind but at no time is any detail obscured. If anything the rebalancing (which is arguably closer to the letter of the score) allows more to be heard and the writing that is comparatively reduced gains in its ability to decorate the main symphonic argument.
Nott, in exhorting his Bamberg players to stick strictly to the letter of score, reveals a far darker symphony than those who merely revel in the surface glitter - a facet of the interpretation constant throughout the work. That is not to say that when iridescent textures are present they are diminished in Nott's hands but thanks to the greater emphasis on the darker & deeper side of Mahler's writing, they seem all the greater thanks to the extra contrast compared to most other interpretations on disc.
In the first movement particularly, the opening is far more deliberate than others and that it presages an 20-something minute trudge. Despite no obvious "gear shifts", the main Allegro section is quick enough & the whole enterprise takes marginally longer than Abbado's rightly famed BPO account of 2001. In many ways, the timing balance of Nott's account is similar to Abbabdo's but just a little more relaxed so that the ear can hear far more detail than the Berliners can delineate at the fractionally faster tempos. This is especially true of the first Nachtmusik and the central Scherzo in the more fleeting, ghostly gestures as opposed to the "reassuring" longer melodies. The expressive level flirts with vulgarity but fortunately serves to unsettle the listener.
In the second Nachtmusik, release from all the previous tension is at last found except for a few brief central elements. Briefly it is worth noting that the mandolin moments must surely have been in Prokofiev's mind when he conjured the relevant sections of Romeo & Juliet. Throughout, the sweetness never veer's into becoming fey and Nott gives the coda a wistful tenderness. The finale is one of the most effective accounts I have heard to date for Nott does not engage "jubilation" mode from the start but makes the triumphant conclusion hard won by underlining all the many collapses in the abortive attempts as he sees it to celebrate.
The sound from Tudor and Bavarian Radio is as good as you could ever wish: beautiful, rounded yet full of detail and precision of staging. Both this and the playing make Mahler: Symphony No. 7 - Tilson Thomas seem very unsubtle by comparison.
Fantastic in every way and sets new heights remarkable even by the standards of this cycle. Enormously recommended!
Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by John Miller - March 7, 2012
Received wisdom holds that Mahler's Seventh Symphony is the black sheep of his symphonic family. Difficult, without a heroic concept, poorly structured, no proper slow movement, vulgar, lacking in good thematic material. These and many more objections to the work have been levelled by the pundits. Even the doyen of Mahler scholars, Deryck Cooke, called the finale "tiresome" and "Kappellmeisterisch" (an insult referring to the popular view of professional music directors as unimaginative and "square").
So any conductors and orchestras arriving at the Seventh in their ongoing Mahler Symphony cycle must be quaking in their boots, in case their efforts be damned by the critics if they can't seem to "handle" the Seventh. Conductors who are not intimidated and can truly master the symphony are few and far between. Kubelik, Bernstein (the NYPO version), Rattle, Abbado (Lucerne Festival) and Tilson Thomas are the main members of this pantheon, and now we must add Nott and his phenomenal Bamberg Symphony Orchestra.
The Sixth Symphony was a deeply significant one for Mahler, in which he explored the depth of tragedy and sorrow following the death of his daughter. One can well understand that he would not have wished to follow that with anything similar. He began writing the two lighter-hearted Serenade pieces, which finally found their place in the Seventh Symphony as Nachtmusik I and II. There is evidence that the first movement was written last of all. In its completed form, the symphony picks up the 5 movement structure of the Fifth Symphony, and similarly moves from Dark to Light, starting in B minor and progressing through E minor to celebratory C major. Mahler was adamant that he had no programme for the Seventh, beyond the topic of Night. In Mahler's fertile imagination, the concept of night went far beyond the factual, moving deep into the emotional realm of dreams, both nightmare and pleasurable, to recalls of evening relaxation and companionship, the beauty of the countryside at dusk, childhood fears and many other poetic conceits.
Nott is aware of Mahler's ingenuity in displaying all these often fleeting impressions of Night. They are coloured with unusual and forward-looking orchestration, and expressed with various degrees of Mahler's customary cynicism and vulgarity as well as exposure to Mahler's brew of horror and nightmare. Nott lifts the music pristine from the fanatically detailed score, rather than being guided by accumulated notions of prejudiced performance practice, and his marvellous orchestra fully commits to bringing this great experimental symphony to full life.
Nothing escapes Nott's attention. In the first movement, the many Wunderhorn references and military fanfares (a barracks was next door to Mahler's childhood home) and references to the 'Revelge' song are lucidly depicted, reminders of Mahler's youth in the countryside. The sudden presentation of one of his Mahler's celestial visions, a wide-eyed vision of Heaven, is radiantly played with soft shimmering strings, harp and celesta, an exquisite passage of guileless beauty.
A broader than usual tempo for the first Nachtmusik relaxes into a gentle parody of the whole genre of serenades, conveyed with a musical smile and a wink. The lurching spinning-wheel theme of the scherzo brings us into a typical Mahler horror-scherzo but even this is more benevolent and its grotesquenesses are also tongue-in-cheek. Mahler's cryptic instruction of "Shadowy" is obeyed to the letter. On the other hand, Nott's Nachmusik II, also broader than usual, reveals the true serenade as a delectable love poem, played out under the twinkling stars of a velvety night. What refined and expressive playing the Bamberg players draw out in this movement!
Nott's broader tempo for the finale has dividends. In other hands the startling opening with its eruption of tympani and brass, can sound chaotic and congested, but in this reading its portrayal of Day's return is clearly depicted. The rondo format allows Mahler to experiment with the interludes between the rondo theme, making the movement scintillate like a rotating kaleidoscope of Viennese life of the time. There are obvious references to Wagner and Lehar, and Nott's careful grading of tension brings the listener to the edge of the seat as the final blaze of C major has the orchestra taking fire with its celebratory cacophony of bells, brass and cowbells. This is the only way to treat the Seventh's finale, embracing it completely, with no apologies. Is this final blaze of triumph sincere or cynical? With Mahler you can never be sure.
This superbly played Mahler 7 demands, and gets, a recording of equivalent bravura. Bavarian Radio's multichannel capture is totally convincing as a solid orchestral image within the Bamberg concert hall, and not a jot of detail is missed. The powerhouse of this orchestra is its bass foundation, superbly portrayed, with the tuba, bass clarinet and double bassoon solos clearer than ever before. The sound is simply thrilling. Egon Schiele's aptly atmospheric landscape graces the cover, as on the last few discs in the series.
Nott's Mahler cycle goes from strength to strength, and far from being "kappelmeisterich" he reveals the Seventh as one of Mahler's most original creations. This disc usurps Tilson Thomas and also the unforgettable Lucern Abbado performances from my favourites. Buy it and confound the critics who belittle Mahler's Seventh symphony.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net