I admire Vänskä’s Minnesota recordings of Mahler’s Symphonies Nos 5 and 6 (especially the Fifth), and his new Seventh continues his detailed but long-view approach. Vänskä sets out to create a narrative in Mahler, and this is apparent from the start.
The opening trombone lament is humanised by a more-than-usual amount of vibrato (wonderfully played too), then when the allegro arrives Vänskä inserts a “once upon a time” ritardando into it. The heraldic, Siegfried-like journey barrels along, but the conductor lingers to enjoy the view in the magical harp glissando episode.
Mahler’s Seventh is sometimes called “Song of the Night” because of the nocturnal character of the three central movements: a stealthy march, a ‘valse macabre’, and a moonlight serenade complete with mandolin. Vänskä relishes the nocturnal atmosphere. His coda of the march is tantalisingly ghostly; his Scherzo taken at a malevolent lick. Orchestral writing is more colourful in this symphony than in most of Mahler’s others, but I like they way Vänskä uses the effects for a purpose, not exaggerating them à la Sinopoli. He is more of a detached storyteller than Bernstein, whose first recording in New York is a classic, but equally coherent.
The chaotic, episodic final movement, where many performances come to grief, benefits from Vänskä’s tight control and unerring sense of timing. For once, it feels like a summation. The Minnesota musicians play with accuracy, sensitivity, and brilliance throughout, while BIS’s recording quality is of the highest standard. Despite other good recent Mahler Sevenths (eg. Dudamel), this is a top recommendation.
Compositions: Symphony No 7
Performers: Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2386