Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor – San Francisco Symphony
Multichannel SACD, 821936-0009-2, 78:11 *****:
Having met with tremendous success in the project thus far, the San
Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas now move forward in their
self-produced Mahler cycle with a new recording of the Symphony No. 7.
Like all the previous volumes, this one is a keeper and destined for a
proud spot on the shelf. The performance is nothing short of thrilling
and the sound quality, especially the super audio surround dimension of
the disc, is immediate and bracingly clear, placing the listener
vicariously in a good sonically balanced seat inside Davies Hall during
one of the three days the recording was taken there this past March.
A strong sense of compositional logic supports every moment of the
opening Langsam-Allegro, although fierce horn playing and the
brilliant, resolute clarinets compete for space in one’s memory.
Thomas’s firm but flexible control is the defining trait of the first
Nachtmusik section. Excitement increases slowly through deft shading
and an exceptionally gradual crescendo. String tone soars with warmth
and breadth in all those melodies and the music’s cheekiness comes
across vividly. The last note of this movement is deliciously chilling.
Ghostly, mournful slurs at low volume transform during the Scherzo into
a firm, slashing waltz practically tumbling over itself in its race
forward. Urgency and stridency increases until the movement ends with
an eerie col legno scratchy and grainy enough to have been played with
broom bristles. It’s not as if the strings have been dormant until now.
Still, they come to glowing life along with the guitar part in the
second Nachtmusik section. MTT gives us Romantic Mahler at its best
here, with a long expansive Andante marked by great tonal depth and
luster. Not that the brass have been dormant, either, but they awaken
most fully in the final Rondo-Finale. Bright and robust but never ugly
or out of control they sing out against the strings in electrifying
polyphony. As the Seventh Symphony’s emotional path returns to where it
began, the SFS and MTT mark off one more notch in their much larger
journey with Mahler.
— Zachary Lewis