Mahler - Symphony No.7
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich; David Zinman
RCA Red Seal 88697 50650 2
Integral sets of Mahler symphonies have run amok as the double whammy of the composer’s sesqui-and-centennial anniversaries approach (born 1860, died 1911). Among the finest of these is the ongoing series, released in chronological order, by David Zinman and the Swiss Tonhalle Orchestra.
The Seventh Symphony has long been regarded as the problem child of the set, a true test of a conductor’s insight due to its multi-faceted interpretive challenges. It is, relatively speaking, an uncharacteristically optimistic work and one which hints at advances in Mahler’s harmonic thinking to which he would return in his uncompleted Tenth Symphony. Critics of the past regarded the composer’s appropriation of a sunny disposition in this work forced and disingenuous. Influential curmudgeon T.W. Adorno declared the work a complete failure, dismissing Mahler as “a poor yea-sayer”, while Mahler’s acolyte Bruno Walter avoided this work throughout his career. Today Mahler’s puzzling ambiguities have captured the imagination of our own era to such an extent that he now rivals Beethoven in his universal appeal. Zinman approaches his task with characteristic thoroughness and a scrupulous adherence to Mahler’s exacting performance directions. His admirable control of orchestral balances is well captured by RCA’s production team. Though Zinman’s performance of the three central movements of this vast, symmetrical five-part structure are beyond reproach, the convulsions of the weighty first movement are less well defined and the rollicking finale, though certainly festive, falls short of the triumphant atmosphere established by Bernstein and Abbado in their multiple recordings of this work. Despite the rather undernourished sound produced by the Zurich string section and Zinman’s micromanagement of events hindering the spontaneity demanded by Mahler’s more operatic moments, this is nonetheless a major recording which I heartily recommend.