Review: Mariss Jansons Leads the Bavarian Radio Symphony in a ‘Riveting’ Mahler’s 7th at Carnegie Hall
By Brian Taylor, Contributing Writer, May 8, 2018
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra reinforced their stature as one of the finest ensembles in the world in a riveting performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor. Under the revered baton of Mariss Jansons, their chief conductor, this superb orchestra shone at Carnegie Hall, and told a story that had the audience on the edge of their seats.
Mahler’s Seventh Symphony contains in it the breadth of the universe, and at 80 minutes in length, it demands enough from the orchestra and audience that it naturally comprises the entire evening. The Seventh is possibly the least performed of Mahler’s monumental symphonies, and this superior account proved this a miscarriage of justice. Sometimes referred to as “Song of the Night,” the work bears all of the trademarks of the great Austrian composer’s massive creations, in an especially entertaining package. In five busy movements, none of them a traditional slow movement, the symphony journeys from darkness to light.
Mariss Jansons’s steady hand and warm rapport with the musicians is evident from the start. The piece begins ominously, the strings marching in on a muddy, unstable chord, the first melodic call played by a haunting solo tenor horn. The symphony involves much solo playing, and the orchestra’s players relished every opportunity to bring deeply felt expression, the dialogue between instruments always leading somewhere. In Mahler, every phrase plumbs something from the human experience. Throughout the score, Mahler writes crescendos from piano to forte within the span of a few beats. Jansons coaxes the heart and soul from every such gesture.
Jansons is a master at shaping Mahler’s complex, multi-layered orchestration, with its plethora of dynamic markings and tempo fluctuations, into a living breathing organism in clear focus. The middle section of the first movement, a brief glimpse beyond the gates of heaven, is surely one of the most beautiful passages Mahler composed. The violins have a velvety sheen and soaring line in these ecstatic phrases. The first movement concludes with an extraordinary wielding of power from the brass, the trumpets bursting from the stratosphere. The sinister character Mahler conjures here seems to be taking cues from Berlioz (think Symphonie Fantastique‘s march to the gallows) and Wagner, but ushers in a twentieth century sense of irony.
The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s musicians listen and engage with each other palpably, and this pays off in the character and personality of their section playing. The jocular, satirical second movement, entitled Night Music I: Allegro moderato, again gives the players lots of solos and interplay, which the players seemed to enjoy. The percussionists brought a light touch to the effect of cow-herding bells sounding as if from a distance. In the Fourth movement, Night Music II: Andante amoroso, the novel employment of guitar and mandolin was highlighted by seating them on either side of the podium, like soloists (although they only provide occasional support).
The finale, a triumphant, glorious rondo, calls upon the brass section to blaze full blast, and the roundness and purity of intonation achieved by the Bavarian players is not to be taken for granted. The movement builds to its climax at some length, paced expertly by Jansons, and the piece’s sharp, surprising final button scintillated. The audience seemed especially thrilled, and the maestro graciously steered the appreciation to the musicians, as if to point out that not only was their exceptional technique on display, but their hearts and souls are really what brings this music so brilliantly to life.
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall on May 5, 2018. Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor.
MAHLER Symphony No. 7
Cover: Mariss Jansons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; photo: Peter Meisel.