- Conductor: Markus Stenz
- Composer: Gustav Mahler
- Audio CD (1 July 2013)
- Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Hybrid SACD, SACD
- Label: Oehms Classics
- ASIN: B00C87OMKW
- Other Editions: Audio CD | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 345,212 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Mahler: Symphony No. 7 In E Minor [Markus Stenz, Gürzenich-Orchestra Cologne] [Oehms Classics: OC652] Hybrid SACD, SACD
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Mahler: Symphonie Nr. 7
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The speeds that make markus Stenz's new recording such a jolly romp are further italicised by the heavy tread of the first movement's idyllic interlude and a massive allargando for the finale's peroration, placing the entire symphony within quotation marks and encouraging us to look sideways in the last two movements at just those modes of expression, sentimental and triumphant. --Gramophone, Sept'13
Stenz is absolutely magnificent here, pushing his players to the limit, bringing out all the joyous abandoment of Mahler in flaming. Bell-drenched C Major, and with an ear for telling details that ensure the unique orchestral colouring of this movement comes through with maximum effect. IRR OUTSTANDING --IRR, Oct'13
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Want a wonderful M7, this one is quite fine. And to my taste it is the absolute leader available on SACD. The sound is gorgeous, by the way.
For starters, Stenz sweeps away - perhaps more convincingly than anybody - all the old notions of the finale being the problem child of Mahler's seventh. Stenz 'gets it' that the 7th is a 'darkness to light' traversal that takes one from the dark and pessimistic world of M6, and dumps us on the doorstep of Mahler's life affirming 8th symphony - the symphony that Mahler himself considered to be his finest and most important contribution to the genre (it's immaterial to this argument if others share that view or not). In this kaleidoscopic hodge-podge of a finale (if you try to analyze it via traditional, classical means, you'll be lost!), Mahler not only pokes some fun at himself, but at the entire Late Romantic idiom as well. It starts out as a traditional Rondo, but then turns more into a crazy, `keep-'em-guessing' Theme and Variations. Towards the end, the 'force of darkness' from the first movement rears its ugly head, only to be cancelled out by a final reappearance of the finale's opening fanfare theme. This, in turn, leads to a final peroration - one of those truly humungous Mahlerian climaxes - that Stenz milks better than anybody before him (he achieved the same exact results at the end of his recording of the 8th symphony as well). In short, it's just plain fun and thrilling to listen to Stenz's traversal through Mahler's many twists and turns. The rest of the symphony is conducted at a very high level as well.
What I'll freely admit for those who are going to point it out for us, is that the Gurzenich Orchestra isn't exactly on the same exalted, virtuosic level as the Berlin Phil. or Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. But for me, Stenz's insightful leadership more than makes up for any deficiencies in orchestral execution. While the sound quality isn't quite as clear and deep as what we hear on Jonathan Nott's Mahler 7 on the Tudor label (Nott is great with the first two movements, but has to yield to Stenz on the final two movements), it's not that far from being near the top in this regard either.
Please note that I listened to this on the regular CD layer only.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wrote the Symphony No. 7 in E minor in 1904-05, and it is probably his most biographical work. Along with the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Seventh forms a middle trio of Mahler symphonies, all of them purely orchestral, with the Seventh being the oddest of the group. Even more so than most of Mahler's works, its five movements are open to multiple interpretations, and with practically every conductor on Earth having recorded them, we get a variety of readings. I remember one critic once explaining that the symphony was a recounting by Mahler of his trip to the countryside, complete with his packing of suitcases, traveling through rural roads, along pastures, and on to his destination. Other critics see its five movements more generally as a journey from dusk until dawn or a night walk into morning, a kind of eccentric, extended nocturne.
Maestro Stenz takes a more middling approach than most conductors, attempting to make the music all things to all people. He opens the symphony (when "Nature roars") on an appropriately heavy note, setting us up as Mahler intended for a journey from darkness into light, for as the composer himself commented, it was a work of "predominantly cheerful, humoristic content." Well, whether you believe that or not is beside the point. I suppose you could say that most of Mahler's work was "humoristic" if you count the various ironic, sardonic movements.
Let's say that Stenz carries out the composer's instructions that "the music must always contain a longing for beyond this world." Stenz provides an airy, singing, otherworldly quality to the playing. This is particularly evident in the two Nachtmusik interludes that bookend the middle movement. These serenades have a lilting yet shadowy air about them, the second one more pastoral than the first.
Then, speaking of "shadowy," the central Scherzo is a kind of demonic dance macabre, which Stenz pulls off pretty well, without making it too melodramatic. Although it's still a little creepy, it's never a caricature of itself. It seems more of an inevitable piece of the bigger composition than sometimes occurs when a conductor gets carried away with the bizarre nature of Mahler's creation. The unrest is there, but it's mostly just mysterious without being cacophonous.
That brings us to the Finale, one of Mahler's more unruly movements. Many listeners hear echos of Wagner's Meistersinger in it, the fairground, the hustle and bustle, and, naturally, the jubilant fanfares. They're surely hard to miss. Stenz guides us through the hurly-burly pretty successfully, never letting the music simply march along from one Wagnerian crescendo to another but smoothly laying out the plan and seamlessly connecting the dots. In other words, Stenz ensures that Mahler's music remains of a whole, building and releasing the conflicts and stresses in perfectly natural, free-flowing rhythms, ending on a wonderfully triumphant note. It's a most enjoyable reading.
In terms of sound, I found the sonic value of the live recording remained high despite the relatively close miking. There is a moderately good sense of depth to the orchestra, and we get a reasonably wide dynamic range and impact. However, the miking also reveals flaws in the orchestral execution. What's more, the midrange sounds a tad too soft, warm, and weighty much of the time where you might expect more transparency (the orchestration is lighter than in most Mahler symphonies). High-end extension sounds impressive, and occasional bass thumps make their mark. One almost never hears the audience, thankfully, but there is a slight background noise present during quieter passages.
Oh, and there is no applause at the end to interrupt our final appreciation of the music. With no applause and a quiet audience, it's almost like a non-live recording. Which is what they should have done in the first place.
John J. Puccio
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