Vänskä’s Mostly Impressive Mahler Seventh

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Well what do you know? After their generally fine Mahler Fourth, Vänskä and his Minnesota forces find themselves on a roll. This is a very good performance of the tricky Seventh Symphony. The outer movements, in particular, are as smartly and intelligently shaped as they ever have been. Vänskä doesn’t try to pull any stunts in music that is already so strange and unusual. Rather, he secures excellent playing from the orchestra, and concentrates his attention on ensuring lively rhythms and an impressive degree of textural transparency, all to the benefit of Mahler’s extraordinary orchestration. That central “moonlit” episode in the first movement, for example with the harps perfectly touched in, has never sounded better. I’m not kidding.

The first two inner movements are a bit less successful in my opinion. Vänskä’s pursuit of clarity at all costs robs both the first Nachtmusik and the Scherzo of some of their spooky atmosphere, and the overly swift tempo in the former doesn’t help either. On the other hand, you may forgive him the relatively un-shadowy Scherzo when the playing reveals such remarkable transparency and precision. Personally, I’m on the fence in that case. The second Nachtmusik, on the other hand, sounds just about perfect–charming, elegant, stylish, but never cloying.

BIS’ sonics are typically fine as regards balance and dynamic range, although I’m not sure whether the lightness in the bass (both heavy brass and percussion) is the result of the engineering or Vänskä’s refusal to relax and let the orchestra cut loose in the big moments. This has been an issue with his Mahler all along–too often, it sounds small when it should be earthshaking, but such moments in this performance are few and far between. An enjoyable release, then, that has happily confounded my understandably low expectations.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (Sony); Gielen (SWR)

  • BIS - 2386
  • SACD

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