Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Mahler – Seventh Symphony @ Barbican Hall, London

11 March 2006

Riccardo Chailly‘s was just such a performance, andwent some way to proving the Leipzig Gewandhaus are ontheir way back to recapturing past glories. Theperformance fizzed with energy and atmosphere yet wasnever a display piece, the conductor fully aware ofthe worth of each individual statement within thewhole.

The opening of the first movement was inspired bythe rowing motion on a boat travelling across anAlpine lake, and here it set forth with an obduratetread, an immediate impression made by the grainysound of the strings, the violins handling the trickycontours of the theme with apparent ease. As the musicpaused for a rapt chorale section time seemed to standstill, but then we were plunged into the ferocity ofthe Allegro, the brass (trumpet in particular) nailingsome extraordinary high notes, the timpani strikingout with gruesome power. As Mahler reined theemotions in from an unlikely positive outcome to thelake music Chailly turned inwards once again, beforerousing the troops for a climax of ear-splittingpower.

After such an intense and involving symphonicallegro Mahler introduces two ‘night music’ movements,each flanking a central scherzo, and it was here thatthe instrumental colourings and phrases became evermore surreal. The first ‘Nachtmusik’ was darklyatmospheric, its moments of Romanticism taken up bythe cellos in an affectionate theme, but deftlypointed by sharp flicks from the harps. The secondfeatured guitar and mandolin, and there was an ever soslight time delay when these had melody that pairedwith the violins, but the resulting textures wereeye-opening. The scherzo, meanwhile, had us hooked,its beginning something of a strangled cough on doublebasses, growing out of nothing with its off-beatmenace until suddenly the full orchestra were in.Chailly made much here of the snatched phrases and theimplied dread, an uncomfortable ride indeed.

The empty triumphalism of the finale has come infor much criticism in its time but Chailly got itssentiments here, its forced joy apparent from theoutset, and the many attempts to wrangle victory werecaptured in an exaggerated pull back by the conductorbefore the final, massive statement. This bombasticfinish served to re-emphasise the orchestra’sincredible virtuosity, tone colour and staying power,and Chailly’s interpretation was complete, hisconducting superb throughout. A standing ovationensued and it was richly deserved.

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