Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 7 (Kirill Kondrashin)


Composer: Gustav Mahler
  1. Symphony No. 7 in E minor: I. Langsam - Allegro
  2. Symphony No. 7 in E minor: II. Nachtmusik 1 (Allegro moderato)
  3. Symphony No. 7 in E minor: III. Scherzo - Trio
  4. Symphony No. 7 in E minor: IV. Nachtmusik 2 (Andante amoroso)
  5. Symphony No. 7 in E minor: V. Rondo-Finale (Allegro ordinario - Allegro)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Kirill Kondrashin, conductor
Date: 1979
Label: Tahra




Kirill Kondrashin was an important, at times great Mahler conductor. While the British press keeps up an ongoing historical commentary about the beginnings of "the acceptance of Mahler in Britain" in the late 1950s and early '60s (accompanied by a spate of generally terrible broadcast airchecks by Horenstein and Barbirolli) no one ever discusses the similar phenomenon in Russia, for which Kondrashin was largely responsible. He recorded all of the symphonies except Nos. 2 and 8 for Melodiya, and in particular turned in an excellent recording of No. 7 with the storied Leningrad Philharmonic. Kondrashin's Mahler was truly "Russian" in its whiplash orchestral discipline and scorching excitement, but it also was informed by a keen structural awareness and shapeliness of line. The evening he died (March 7, 1981) he had just conducted the First Symphony with the NDR Orchestra of Hamburg on tour at the Concertgebouw (a magnificent performance now residing in the NDR archives, and hopefully soon to be released on CD).

This Seventh, captured on November 29, 1979, is simply stunning--one of those live events that can't be predicted or even truly rehearsed. They just happen. Although the timings are virtually identical to the Leningrad performance, Kondrashin's more flexible pulse gives this particular event something of the wild excitement of Scherchen's wretched live Toronto recording (another performance beloved by those who regard high technical standards as a barrier to expression), only with predominantly fabulous playing. A couple of flubs from trumpets and horns, mostly in the finale, simply don't matter given the general level of excellence. That the Concertgebouw Orchestra manages to keep together and not only get the notes right, but phrase, inflect, color, and balance this complex score stands as a tribute to Kondrashin's storied podium technique as well as to the ensemble's collective virtuosity and thorough understanding of Mahler's idiom.

One of the things that you will notice right away is Kondrashin's ability to secure a huge dynamic range while remaining in tempo. The first movement's second subject offers an ideal example and explains the conductor's talent for achieving such powerfully expressive results despite his comparative swiftness. He handles transitions magnificently: listen to the way he eases into the rapt "moonlit" central interlude, or to the incredible excitement he builds as the recapitulation approaches (and the positively physical sense of release at its arrival). The march-tempo coda has a thoroughly Russian militancy (percussion to the fore) and drive. In fact, Kondrashin has a special feel for marches: the first Nachtmusik, with its thudding timpani, snappy winds, and jaunty rhythms makes a far different impression than the softer and more mysterious approach we usually hear. The scherzo benefits from the wide tempo contrast between its main sections and much slower trio, with an altogether marvelous climax when the latter's plaintive melody gets taken onto the dance floor for a clownishly humorous fling.

Unusually swift speeds again characterize the second Nachtmusik, but Kondrashin's flexibility of pulse keeps everything in proportion. The clearly audible mandolin and guitar once again serve as eloquent testament to his uncanny feel for balance and clarity of texture. As for the finale, well, it's a knockout. Crazy, unpredictable, hilarious, it's everything this music must be. The Concertgebouw strings offer playing here that's almost terrifying in its insouciant unanimity: those breezy "Turkish music" episodes, or the passage just before the final return of the opening fanfares, sound so together that they approach the paranormal. By the time the final bars have resounded to a clangor of cowbells and chimes, you realize that something truly special has just taken place. And best of all, the recorded sound--though a bit distant and bass shy--is really, really good. Turn it up and it puts you right in the hall and never comes between you and the music, making it quite evident that what you just experienced wasn't the product of engineers, but of musicians working at a white heat of inspiration. An unforgettable experience.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


Kirill Kondrashin (6 March [O.S. 21 February] 1914 – 7 March 1981) was a Russian conductor. He was the artistic director of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra from 1960 to 1975 and premiered Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 and No. 13 during this period. He left the Soviet Union in December 1978 while touring in the Netherlands and sought political asylum there. Kondrashin took the post of Permanent Guest Conductor of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra in the same year and remained in that position until his death.


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