MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in e – Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/ David Zinman – RCA

by | Feb 24, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in e – Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/ David Zinman – RCA Multichannel SACD 88697 50650, 78:32 ****:

You do have to admire RCA for continuing its Zinman SACD series, and at such a reasonable price as well (they go for about the same price as the Living Stereo releases). While I doubt that this whole series will be the one to collect, there are good performances, sometimes outstanding (as here) and well worth the investment for those needing a second opinion.

Nearly every critic I know maintains the idea that Bernstein owned Mahler’s Seventh. For a long time there was always this critical hash going around about how weak the symphony was, especially its ending. Bernstein put at end to that with his Columbia recording (now on Sony) proving once and for all that the symphony was not at fault (and Mahler thought it one of his best) but the conductor’s. That Sony reading still stands as the best ever done, with his DGG recording a close second. You don’t know this work unless you have heard one of those.

Bernstein caught the mystery in this work while also giving one of the most effervescent readings of the finale—an opposing contrast to the first movement—and paving the way for the still-remembered darkness of the Sixth to the glorious redemption of the Seventh, the finale of the instrumental “trilogy” of middle Mahler symphonies. Zinman, though in the notes refers to this work as esoterically “dark” doesn’t really take that approach in his reading—I find this one of the brightest and cheeriest versions of the symphony on the market, and well worth hearing.

There is no doubt that Tilson Thomas, both on his stunning RCA reading and his latest SACD San Francisco version has the better orchestra, the more profound orchestral effects that Mahler asks for—and are absolutely essential in this work—and in general has a more spacious soundstage. The Zurich orchestra plays very well but they don’t seem quite as attuned to the Mahler idiom as do the West Coasters. The sound is more up front on this disc that on the Thomas, though there is really nothing to complain about.

This is one of the best of this series so far, and even though I still think that Thomas is going to score the most desirable set when all is finished, I certainly will be keeping this one as well.

— Steven Ritter   

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