Mahler’s Seventh Symphony might be considered the antidote to the intense pessimism of his Sixth, so-called “Tragic,” Symphony. Portions of this symphony (movements two and four) were in fact conceived concurrently with the Sixth, and there is an architectural similarity between the opening movements of the two works.
The unjustly neglected Seventh is Mahler’s most “modern” symphony, an outlier whose progressive tonality and free-associative structure foreshadow the dissolution of the Romantic era. Darkness pervades the heart of this work, culminating in the frightening central Scherzo, yet it ends in brilliant sunshine. Beneath the surface of the frantic marches, haunted waltzes, militant fanfares and moments of deep tenderness lies a subliminal ambiguity that only fully reveals itself on deeper reflection. This is especially true in the mock-triumphalism of the finale of the work, which imposes an interpretive challenge far greater than that of any of the previous or indeed subsequent symphonies. In the words of the pre-eminent Mahler biographer Henri-Louis de la Grange, “To fathom the meaning of this enigmatic Rondo, we need, perhaps, to refer to more recent music in which quotations, borrowings and allusions to the past constitute the principal aim.”
It takes a light and nimble hand to guide us through these thickets. Osmo Vänskä and his Minnesota musicians rise to the challenge in this brilliantly recorded performance which ranks amongst the finest interpretations known to me of this oracular masterpiece. Highly recommended.