MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 – Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Mariss Jansons – BR Klassik multichannel SACD 403571900101, 77:31 [Distr. By Naxos] *****:
Gustav Mahler wrote his Symphony No. 7 during the Summers of 1904 and 1905; he went as usual to his composing studio at Maiernigg on the shores of the Woerthersee for peace and rural tranquility. There’s a substantial first movement lasting over twenty minutes, a scherzo at the heart and rondo-finale with which to finish. In between these are two movements both entitled Nachtmusik and both completed in the same Summer of 1904 after he had completed the Sixth Symphony. Did he write these movements to dispel the tragedy, pain and torment of the Sixth? What does Mahler mean when he uses the expression “Nachtmusik”? Perhaps it implies a mixture of that relaxed evening feeling, of that darkness within, of that nightmare recurring in his work, of the mysterious atmosphere night-time brings.
At the première in Prague in September 1908, where Mahler conducted the Czech Philharmonic, it was suggested the work be called “Nachtwanderung” a journey from darkness into light. The final movement has been described as a “Day Piece – full of blinding brightness” or “Return into Day”.
The recording on this disc derives from two performances in Munich in May 2007 and has been issued in the first tranche from the BRSO’s own label, showing the orchestra and conductor on top form. Jansons has the architecture firmly in view as a whole and his sense of line brings many rewards in the end result. The strings play with a sweetness few orchestras can equal in quality and the brass sound weighty and burnished. Wind solos are nicely pointed, too, the bucolic trills sounding just right. The pivotal scherzo, around which the work rotates, is tellingly demonic and spooky, a winter ghost story of fantasy. The mandolin and guitar are balanced naturally and effectively in the warmth of the second Nachtmusik.
Recording quality is excellent in both hi-res stereo and surround modes and the audience is commendably silent. While there is plenty of air around the orchestra, Jansons and the engineers ensure no detail is smeared and the resulting transparency is an exemplar for modern engineering. There is no shortage of first-class recordings of this Mahler symphony, even on SACD, but this one is surely equal to the best of them.
— Peter Joelson