When Mahler was rehearsing his 7th symphony for its premiere performance in Prague, he immediately jumped to the finale when his wife, the lovely Alma Schindler, finally caught up to him and entered the hall. He also referred to the finale as a stroke of sunshine in C-Major. Yet, it's often times the finale that comes off as anti-climatic in commercial recordings. No such problems here. Gergiev is the first one to truly challenge Kiril Kondrashin - another fellow Russian, but a blast from the past - in making this one of the most exciting, most exhilarating finales ever. He clocks in at well less than 17 minutes, yet there are plenty of deep bells and cow bells in the movement's final peroration. Just a bit more stretching of tempo in the final few bars would have made all this even more effective. Since this is a basically a Rondo movement (actually, it veers away from a true Rondo as it goes along), the one variation with simultaneous bass drum and cymbal strokes is particularly outstanding here (it's a little more than half-way through).
As is becoming more standard practice now, the second Nachtmusik (4th movement) is taken a bit on a swift side; more Italian serenade-like, than a sleepy or dreamy nocturnal romance. The middle movement scherzo is very well pegged: not too slow, but not excessive fast either - just as Mahler warns against. It's the first Nachtmusik (2nd movement) that's a bit of let-down here: it's simply too fast and lacks any sense of atmosphere. It's a throw-away.
As for the long first movement, it gets off to a rough and slipshod start. But things improve greatly during the contrasting, "moonlit" central episode, and Gergiev milks every ounce of bizarreness that he can muster out of the first movement's final few moments. Cymbal crashes are huge; the horns are loud; the "teletype" rhythm in the horns and snare drum just comes off as being strange and surreal, and the two-bar funeral dirge passage just seems like the last straw - until we find ourselves in the midst of the even more bizarre, more surreal final few measures of the movement.
It seems as though Mahler could see everything that was going to happen on the European battlefields between 1914 and 1918. So it seems. Then there's the finale - a parody of himself, and of the late romantic idiom in general; poking fun at the age of Zeppelins and Titanics. Am I sounding like Gergiev yet?