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Gustav Mahler's symphonic output is pivotal to one's understanding of how history unfolded during the twentieth century. Indeed, if one searched for a musical manifestation of all the horrific experiences and tragic failures of European history in the early twentieth century, it would be impossible to discard the symphonies of Mahler, because, at the core of these prophetic works, there is not only a new musical language opening up, but more of the crying out of life with all its conflicts and its joys, its harmony and its discords, its triumphs and its power to self-destruct.
The Seventh is an intensely personal and complex score, but when Mahler started composing the work in the summer of 1904 he was passing through, maybe, the happiest period of his life. After a difficult beginning, the composer was enjoying great international success as a conductor, and finally, he was also making his mark as a composer. His second daughter was born that June, and during his summer break at Maiernigg he completed his Sixth Symphony and sketched the second and fourth movements - the two Nachtmusik movements - for the Seventh, while mapping out much of the rest of the work. The following summer, after working unstintingly for four weeks, the Symphony was completed in all its five movements. The completed score was dated 15 August 1905 and the orchestration was finished in 1906.
The Seventh had its premiere on 19 September 1908 in Prague, but by then Mahler's life had turned on its head, and the work that the audience experienced was not the optimistic and cheerful one that the composer intended, but one tempered by small yet significant revisions reflecting the sad events of those last three years (1905-1908). In March 1907, the composer had resigned his conductor's post at the Vienna State Opera, after the musicians and directors turned against him, and on 12th July of that same year his first daughter died of scarlet fever. The tragedy was complete when, even as his child lay on her deathbed, Mahler learned that he was suffering from an incurable heart condition. Indeed, all these hammerblows found their way in the version performed at the premiere, which unfortunately was not well received, and both audience and performers were perplexed.
Listen — Mahler: Langsam (Adagio) (Symphony No 7)
(track 1, 0:02-0:58) ℗ 2018 Bayerisches Staatsorchester Konzert GmbH :
Up to this day, this enigmatic work remains Mahler's least performed symphony, but listeners have at last come to accept the challenges it presents with a more open mind, and many identify its inner agony and grief with their own personal experiences. This, maybe, is the reason for its partial neglect and fascination. Mahler thought highly of his work and declared it was his best up till that time.
Listen — Mahler: Scherzo (Symphony No 7)
(track 3, 0:01-0:59) ℗ 2018 Bayerisches Staatsorchester Konzert GmbH :
Kirill Petrenko keeps the music flowing with grace and conviction, and this glowing performance by the Bayerisches Staatsorchester conveys the transition from darkness to light with heart-rending emotion.
Listen — Mahler: Rondo-Finale (Symphony No 7)
(track 5, 0:01-0:59) ℗ 2018 Bayerisches Staatsorchester Konzert GmbH :
The Nachtmusik movements, in particular, are handled with a fragility that is almost incandescent.
Listen — Mahler: Andante amoroso (Symphony No 7)
(track 4, 10:39-11:39) ℗ 2018 Bayerisches Staatsorchester Konzert GmbH :
This very fine first issue augurs well for this new Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings label, and I am in no doubt that future undertakings will be as brilliant as this initial project. Sound and annotations are first-rate.
Copyright © 8 June 2021
CD INFORMATION - MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO 7 / PETRENKO