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As an exponent of Mahler Rattle suits me more or less ideally. This recording has been fused together from two live performances on successive dates at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1991. At that time Rattle was still in his first major appointment as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It seems he had made, but embargoed in a manner worthy of Rudolf Serkin, an earlier recording of Mahler's 7th. We can probably trust his judgment as far as that decision goes. The lost performance was very unlikely to have been better than this one. My own collection of Mahler symphony issues has a superb #5 from Sir Simon as he now is, and with the Berlin Phil where I think he still is. That account seems to me a model of Mahlerian virtues. It shows acute sensitivity to Mahler's special tone, part assertive and part vulnerable. It shows impressive command in balancing Mahler's huge orchestral battalions and conveying his unique orchestral coloration. It handles the changes of mood effortlessly, and it is flexible - indeed bold -- in its tempo rubato without losing flow or coherence. It brings us the more experienced maestro; but it seems to me from hearing this 7th that the young genius of 1991 already had all the aptitudes needed for this composer.

The recording is not, naturally, some contemporary wonder of technology as in Abbado's recent Mahler 3. However it is perfectly adequate, indeed more than adequate. This is what Mahler should sound like, even in the earlier stretches of the first movement where he sounds uncommonly like Scriabin (another kind of sound I happen to like). The playing, with its many exposed solos, strikes me as excellent too. Whether Rattle found the CBSO as good as this, or whether he made them as good as this, I neither know nor much care. They are well up to the job and they sound inspired by it. Beecham used to say about his players (with that special modesty of his) `They make the notes and I make the music.' With a conductor of the stature of Beecham, or of Rattle, that is just simply the truth of the matter. No orchestral players on their own, still less any recording technicians, could define the ebb and flow of the tempo that is so vital in Mahler, let alone keep it together coherently and convincingly. That is the conductor's challenge, and this conductor's way is the way I like Mahler done. Boulez for one has a different approach, but while Boulez in Stravinsky surpasses everyone else for me, in Mahler give me Rattle.

I seem to have read that the 7th symphony is thought in some quarters to be problematical. If this really is any kind of current view, I simply cannot understand it. These days Mahler in general is surely no more controversial than Brahms - indeed probably a good deal less, in proportion as Mahler's merits are less eminent and consequently more tolerable. Mahler's symphonies contain great internal variety and contrast, but his idiom has a strong unity about it for all that, and I can't see that the 7th is any exception. If asked to name a partial exception I would suggest the 6th, excluding the 8th from the question on the grounds that it is an oratorio and not anything that I would myself call a symphony.

There is a liner note with the set, and one that I find irritating as being partly rather good and partly rather bad. It is bad as a piece of commentary and criticism: it provides meagre information about the music together with jejune sales-talk puffing the performance - `Rattle evokes the fanciful character of the music most poetically.' Do you tell me that now? I'll let him know. `It invites no half measures and receives none in Rattle's exciting and convincing interpretation.' Give us a break. On the other hand the author's estimate of the symphony itself seems to me fair and just. The know-all way he contradicts Deryck Cooke is intolerable, but when it comes to the bit I think he's right. When he declares this symphony to be lyrical, attractive and easy to come to terms with again I agree with him. Whatever you think of his effort, even in this inexpensive format you have the opportunity to read it not only in German, but also in French, and it may be that Uebersetzung and traduction reduce its gaucheries in English.

With this acquisition of the 7th, my collection now includes all the Mahler symphonies, including the fragmentary 10th and the Song of the Earth. As I mentioned above, I now have Rattle in two of the series, but altogether there are nine conductors in my little Mahler folder, and only two others put in two appearances. I am dearly fond of Mahler, but not a devotee of the kind he so obviously inspires and unlikely ever to be one. For a comprehensive knowledge of Mahler's discography you must ask elsewhere. However I know him well enough, and from a variety of interpreters, to have a very clear personal concept and idea of him, and for what it's worth Rattle embodies that idea more than any conductor has done since the palmy days of Klemperer and Bruno Walter themselves.
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on 26 March 2015
I am delighted with this purchase of Mahler's 7th symphony,with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,conducted by Simon Rattle.
Previously I had owned Claudio Abbado's Chicago recording and I could never get into it.I heard it was a "problem" symphony so I left it at that.Eventually I gave the CD away!
Having decided to renew my acquaintance with the symphony I bought this CD of Rattle's performance and I am delighted with it.The CBSO is a smaller orchestra than the Chicago and at times the work sounds like a chamber symphony but that is all for the better to me.
I do not know why I [or anyone else] has problems with this work.I have played this CD several times already and I am delighted with it.If anyone else has problems with Mahler 7 then I suggest they try Rattle's version and I hope it changes their mind as it has mine.
I am grateful to Simon Rattle and the CBSO for enabling me to enjoy and appreciate this wonderful symphony!
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on 29 July 2004
Mahler's Seventh Symphony has nothing to overcome, except its reputation as Mahler's most difficult symphony. I am tempted to misquote G.K.Chesterton here, so I shall. Mahler's Seventh Symphony has not be found difficult, it has been found difficult not to muck around with. Interpretations have borne the unnecessary weight of the questions of the Mahler as psychodrama school as they have tried to determine which particular anguish was assailing Mahler when he wrote which Symphony. It is not surprising that those who have tied themselves in knots answering that question have only succeeded in tying the music in knots as well.
This is a great pity as this is - quite simply - marvellous music. Many interpretations take the wrong cue from the description of the second and fourth movements as Nachtmusik - Night Music. In this symphony Mahler is returning to nature as his inspiration, nature in all its elemental glory. This is clearly also dance music. What we are presented with is the spectacle of nature spirits taken to a Viennese Ball.
This must have been plain when Mahler conducted the first performance on September 9th 1908 in Prague. His chosen speeds for the movements were (in minutes) 20:14:11:12:17. There is a clear structure here. Two longer movements containing three shorter middle movements. Most interpretations take all the movements a little slower, then insist on dragging out the fourth movement (the second Nachtmusic movement) to 15, 16 or more minutes long, completely changing its character. And so a great symphony is turned into a difficult one.
At which point it is time to turn to this performance. Simon Rattle, to his great credit restores the timings of Mahler to the work. His timings, at 22:15:10:12:18 minutes are as near as a recording gets to the composers own. Vitally the fourth movement is not made to sleepwalk through the night. From the off it is clear that this conductor understands that the key to this work is not the right balance between light and dark, good and evil or joy and anguish. This is music of the spirits of the night, who are neither good or bad, but happy, carefree and mischievous. They are also, in opposition to the Good Lord, quick to anger and slow to forgive, but they are never solemn or overserious, two characterisics to be found in many other performances of this work, but mercifully not here.
So, put preconceptions to one side and let Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra lead you in the dance of the spirits of the night. This is a very good but not perfect performance and the sound is good but not exceptional. There is one thing this is never: dull.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2005
Famously, Simon Rattle persuaded EMI not to publish his first recording of Mahler's 7th, later approving the issue of this live performance from the 1991 Aldeburgh Festival instead. It would be fascinating to know what he objected to in that first recording, for this is an outstanding performance of what has come to be regarded as Mahler's Problem Symphony.
It is a symphony of stark contrasts, both between and within movements. It is, like the 10th, an arch structure with two large outer movements enclosing the two Nachtmusiken enclosing the spooky scherzo. Each of these movements requires control and understanding from the conductor if they are not to seem bizarrely at odds with each other.
Rattle starts off magically with the slow introduction's rhythms echoing Mahler's description of his inspiration as the dipping of oars from a boat on the lake. He has a wonderfully fruity tenor horn solo, reminding me of the old French or Slav way of brass playing (the symphony was premiered in Prague, remember). Rattle wisely holds back the accelerando into the main allegro until the last possible moment in the trumpets' sequences of fourths, making the slow introduction all of a piece, tempo-wise. This first movement is a very classical sonata-form, but the contrast between first and second subjects couldn't be more marked. Rattle makes the most of this with great energy for the first subject and a marvellous yearning sweep on the strings for the lovely second subject, particularly when it reappears in the recapitulation, trailing huge harp glissandos behind it.
Rattle brings out all the grotesqueries in the orchestration of Nachtmusik I - col legno strings, abrupt fortes on the timps and so on. And the very good sound of the recording helps no end. There's lots of air round the horn calls at the start, for example, allowing the stopped notes of the second horn's repeat of the first's rising melody to sound like a real echo.
The scherzo has to be the most extraordinary thing even Mahler ever wrote, a dance macabre for things that go bump in the night. Is it supposed to be scary or funny? Both if you listen to Rattle's performance. Themes stutter and struggle to start or else get cut off in mid-sentence. Outlandish (but precisely apt) orchestration produces wonderful burps and farts from tuba, double bass and contrabassoon. The E Flat clarinet cackles. At one point the main theme gets an outrageously galumphing town-band outing on the trombones. At another point the basses are asked to let the strings snap against the fingerboard of their instruments, a technique later used by Bartok in his string quartets. Indeed, this movement reminds me of some of Bartok's insect-laden night pieces, unlikely bedfellows though they at first seem. It all ends with a wonderfully crisp hard-stick thwack on the timpani and a tight pizzicato. And it's gone.
Nachtmusik II is all charm and romance. The tricky balance of mandolin and guitar is caught just right. And the great thing in Rattle's favour is that he doesn't drag it out as so many conductors do.
The finale is often seen to be the trickiest Mahler movement to pull of for a conductor. With all the abrupt tempo changes, in the wrong hands it can feel like a learner-driver making kangaroo starts and emergency stops. Rattle seems to know instinctively precisely when to sidle up to a tempo change, when to build forcefully towards it and when to make it absolutely abrupt. But the great revelation of Rattle's performance of this movement is that it is very funny (OK - some of the jokes are a bit German!). Mahler's sense of humour is often forgotten amongst all the angst and emotion, but he could be - in life and in his music - ironic, satirical, sardonic and just downright gleeful. Here he happily sends up the then current taste for the swooping string portamenti and glissandos he often used himself to such good effect. And just listen to the way he sets up what seems to be the final portentous peroration, replete with the clangour of bells and brass, only to bring us back just as quickly to the light charm of a Viennese dance. "Fooled you!" Nevertheless, the coda when it comes, complete with the main theme from the first movement is in Rattle's performance a worthy end to this fascinating, underrated, multi-faceted symphony. I'm grateful to Sir Simon for an outstanding performance of this symphony and, particularly, for revealing the finale in its true colours.
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on 14 January 2011
Andre Previn and the Pittsburgh Symphony recorded Mahler's 4th in what is quite possibly the best recording this ensemble ever made (a very close tie with their Rachmaninov 2nd Symphony, Steinberg conducting). The orchestra Previn built out of the ashes from Steinberg's passing recorded some great music. This Mahler performance is as good as any. It's not a benchmark, but which one is for that matter? The opening sequence is light and the orchestra enters in with rubato, expression and life. The thrills continue. The third movement is gorgeous. Elly Ameling's singing in the 4th movement is pure and lyrical.

It is no wonder this album received a Grammy nomination. The CD I found was made by HMV and was bought at Gatwick Airport, so I hope you are successful finding this performance in spite of its limited availability. The vinyl pressing of this release is quite exceptional when compared to the CD transfer. This is a recording I stand by as my only Mahler 4.
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on 2 April 2015
Great buy
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