Philharmonia Orchestra – Maazel: Mahler Cycle 2011 [7/10 … Symphony 7]

Symphony No.7

Philharmonia Orchestra
Lorin Maazel

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 May, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Lorin Maazel. Photograph: Silvia LelliTurning up for a concert conducted by Lorin Maazel and not seeing a score for the conductor is more or less the norm – save on this occasion he required one. So, after the retrieval of the printed music and finding a stand to put it on, those couple of lapsed minutes handled gracefully and wittily by the maestro, we began an epic account of the Seventh Symphony, the latest in the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Mahler cycle with Maazel.

However dark and problematical this work may be considered, Maazel secured a fastidiously prepared, confidently played performance that compelled attention and painted pictures. He took a somewhat formal view of the outer movements, decidedly weighty and burdened in the first one, opening with great expectancy if a lack of impetus, Byron Fulcher’s tenor tuba solo (should be a tenor horn) well-nigh-perfect. If Maazel’s symphonic integrity satisfied the movement’s various episodes, we were less aware of a gung-ho knight-on-a-white-charger and more of a secluded journey in woodland with some ravishing sun-through-trees radiance, all leading to a dogged, hard-won peroration. Musical clarity and articulation was immaculate, ears pricking to details often overlooked, and if there were times when Maazel’s deliberation verged on Otto Klemperer’s (in)famous slow-motion recording of this work (also with the Philharmonia Orchestra), there was a certainty of direction that bridged all potential sags.

Of the three middle movements, these were clearly differentiated and sounded, the first of the two ‘Nachtmusik’ movements enjoying precisely gauged staccatos and trills that kept the music from dragging, a nocturnal march that glinted in fortissimos, while the second such movement was a translucent serenade from the troubadour era, softly played, the sky cloudless and moonlit, and lovingly poised in the rapturous passages; quite why the guitar was amplified (not an option in Mahler’s day), to edgy effect, can only be counted a misjudgement, but the milder voice of the mandolin was left natural. In between was a scherzo less about hobgoblins and more concerned with precise rhythmic point that moved with silky assurance.

The fascinating finale, the ‘light’ of the symphony, a cavalcade of instalments and incidents, launched here by a thrilling timpani solo from Andrew Smith and with trumpeters fearlessly and accurately finding their top notes, was here less of a carnival, not as ‘cut and paste’ as Mahler might have intended, Maazel finding a through line if less-nudging of the dance rhythms that can be so insouciant (as Bernstein made them). It was all of a piece though and in-keeping with what had gone before (good throughout that lower brass was gloweringly present rather than being hectoring and dominating), the closing bars raising the roof, the penultimate chord perfectly tapered while being held for an age before the emphatic and here so-together final ‘crash’.

In a symphony that can often fit comfortably onto a single compact disc, Maazel led a distinctive and individual 90-minute view of it (Klemperer takes 100 by the way), but it never seemed a second too long, a combination of consummate conducting and totally focussed playing for the interpretative expansion of a symphony that can be treated glibly but which here was very much the world-embracing creation that Mahler considered a symphony to be.

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