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Blu-ray Review

Gustav Mahler

Accentus Blu-ray 10309

Symphony #7

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly
Accentus Blu-ray ACC10309 LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
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Also available on DVD ACC20309:
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I've been covering this cycle by Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig-based Gewandhaus Orchestra since 2011 when I reviewed the first two issues, the Second and Eighth symphonies (Accentus Blu-ray 10238). I followed with notices for the Fifth (Accentus Blu-ray 10284), Sixth (Accentus Blu-ray 10268), and Ninth (Accentus Blu-ray 10299). Somehow I missed Chailly's Fourth, which was issued in 2013, but hopefully I'll get a copy of that and do a belated review. At any rate, I would say the best performances in the cycle thus far have been in the later symphonies, #8 & 9. This Seventh stands with those two, maybe even surpasses them in conception and execution – it's that outstanding.

Like the previous Sevenths on video that I've reviewed here, by Abbado (EuroArts DVD 2054628), and Paavo Järvi (Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 729404), this one by Chailly features tempo selections that are on the brisk side much of the time, the whole performance clocking in at just over seventy-five minutes. Consensus timings generally hover around eighty minutes for this huge and profound (and still somewhat misunderstood) work.

The alto horn solos in the first movement are well played, having that weird sound quality which seems to straddle the thin line between humor and darkness. All the many solos in this symphony by the concertmaster and principal string players and the various wind players are splendidly done. Individual performances right down to those from the mandolin and guitar in the fourth movement (Nachtmusik II), as well as from the large percussion section throughout the symphony are simply excellent.

But it's Chailly, of course, who shapes the score into a purposeful and compelling entity, the work not coming across as unwieldy or episodic, which is how a lesser conductor can make it sound. He doesn't fall into the trap of overplaying the relatively subdued epic character of the work: this is, with the Ninth, perhaps Mahler's most intimate and introverted symphony, and Chailly deftly captures all its subtleties and the often delicate and playful demeanor of the music. Yes, the Scherzo has ample menace and acid, but also plenty of humor too. In the aforementioned second Nachtmusik movement Chailly achieves such a perfect mixture of pastoral serenity and mischievous playfulness in his phrasing with a seemingly perfect sense for dynamics and slight tempo manipulation. Notice how Chailly phrases the ending of the symphony too: it's more about happiness and triumph than about creating huge waves of sound like those in the endings of the Second, Third and Eighth symphonies. All in all, this is a superb Mahler Seventh from Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. By the way, Andris Nelsons, young conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has been named music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, effective fall, 2017. He will continue serving as music director of the BSO at least through 2022.

Sound reproduction, camera work and picture clarity are excellent on this Blu-ray disc. This Chailly effort goes to the top of my list of Mahler Sevenths, surpassing the other splendid ones on video from Abbado and Paavo Järvi. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings