One maestro who does not try to improve Mahler

One maestro who does not try to improve Mahler


norman lebrecht

March 23, 2019

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:


Many regard the seventh as the most perplexing of Mahler’s symphonies. Coming after the extreme pessimism of the sixth, it appears to revert to the pastoralism of the third symphony while maintaining undertones of terror and insecurity. The two Night Music segments that interleave the three main movements may remind you of the Blumine section that Mahler inserted in his first symphony, only to remove it as a bucolic distraction.

Where is Mahler going in the seventh? The only musician to understand it on first hearing was…

Read on here.


And here.




  • We privatize your value says:

    “There is no wholly recommendable performance on record” – well, I’d wholly recommend Kondrashin with Amsterdam, and Bernstein with New York (1965)

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Thank you for the article Mr Lebrecht.
    If I had to choose one Mahler symphony it would be the seventh.
    I have to admit, however, to being baffled by the finale; I am hoping the penny will drop one day.
    My choice is based on the extraordinary first four movements.
    As I understand it some of the movements were written at different time periods which may help explain the seemingly disjointed character of the work.
    However, it is precisely this disjointed aspect that makes it such a powerful, unsettling and all-encompasing work.
    The influence on Schoenberg is hard to miss.
    My performances of choice are the studio and live versions by Tennstedt with the LPO.
    I will definitely check out this new recording.
    Ps: the Klemperer version has to be one of the most baffling.
    It last a good twenty minutes longer than most.

  • Stephen Lawrence says:

    Solti was the recording I grew up with. Brilliant playing, tho goodness knows the sacrifices that might have been required

  • Spenser says:

    The Mahler 7 recording that really made me understand this work is the old Scherchen on Westminster.
    I certainly did not understand it on first hearing, and neither did I on many subsequent hearings.
    Then I heard the Scherchen….and Bob’s yer uncle!

  • ENRIQUE says:

    The end of finale always reminds of Gone With The Wind. Anyone else get the feeling?

  • MrWimsey says:

    I really enjoy listening to Mahler’s Seventh, but I still don’t understand it. I have no idea about he was trying to say or achieve.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s the point. Obviously the composer didn’t know either.

    • barry guerrero says:

      “Enjoy listening” is exactly what Mahler 7 or another piece of music is truly all about. Good for you.

    • Novagerio says:

      When asked about his approach to Mahler’s music, recently deceased Michael Gielen gave the best answer: “I read the score!”

    • Rob says:

      The first movement is a symphonic poem based on Mahler’s walking and cycling trips to the sexten Dolomites in Northern Italy.

  • Novagerio says:

    For me personally, it’s Sinopoli who nails it.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    These days number seven seems to be widely accepted. It is number 8 now with which some conductors have issues, including Ivan Fischer himself & I believe the late Claudio Abbado.

  • barry guerrero says:

    I’ve never understood this mind set. The 7th is clearly a ‘darkness to light’ symphony, one that takes us from the bombastic finale of the ”tragic” sixth symphony and eventually dumps us on the doorstep of “Veni, Creator Spiritus” – the start of the eighth symphony. Granted, there are a lot of twists and turns along the way. But the overall structure of the work is obviously related to the fifth symphony, the other five movement ‘darkness to light’ work from Mahler’s middle period. I happen to think the finale is among most brilliant things that Mahler or anybody else has ever composed – I thought it was a ‘gas’ the very first time I heard it. There’s a lot of Haydn in there. The finale starts out as a strict rondo, but morphs into something more akin to a theme and variations. The back half of the finale just goes nuts in a sort of kaleidoscopic manner. There’s much there that paves the way for Shostakovich. I have numerous recordings of it that I think are very good.

    I’ve never been a big Barenboim fan, but I think his Warner Classics recording M7 with the Staatskapelle Berlin is really, really good. Markus Stenz/Gurzenich Orch. has a fabulous finale, but the rest of it is a bit quick and lacking in atmosphere. Jonathan Nott/Bamberg Symphony one is full of atmosphere, and has a pretty good finale as well. I also like Abbado’s DG remake with the Berlin Phil. Frankly, I think there are a number of good ones. The one with Ivan Fischer’s brother, Adam Fischer, is quite good too. Among early stereo recordings of it, I thought both Bernstein and Haitink were very good.

  • fflambeau says:

    Leonard Bernstein also made a very good recording of the 7th with the NY Philharmonic in 1985 or so. It’s nice that Fischer in the film (you have on a separate story) pays tribute to Bernstein for rehabilitating Mahler. Bernstein was a noted interpreter of Mahler but oddly enough, even better, in my opinion, with Mahler’s opposite, Jean Sibelius.

    • Spenser says:

      As I replied to you in an earlier post, Bernstein did not “rehabilitate Mahler”.
      Mahler never needed “rehabilitating” due to the many performances given his works over the pre- and post-WWII years by Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Walter, Klemperer, Abravanel, Ormandy, and others.

      • Dennis says:

        The Bernstein myths just won’t die.

      • barry guerrero says:

        True, but Bernstein did make the Mahler ‘boom’ happen quicker and – perhaps – to a greater extent, via his mass media connections i.e. television. Some argue that Mahler is over-exposed today. As the world’s largest fan of Mahler’s music, I actually agree that it benefits no-one if Mahler’s music is performed so often that it eclipses everyone else’s good music. I think any given orchestra should perform Mahler no more than once or twice per season. It’s better to keep that feeling of a ‘special occasion’.

  • Dave T says:

    The Levine* Nachtmusik 1 is nicely spirited.

    * is it OK to mention his name here?

  • John Borstlap says:

    I have looked at the manuscript score which is in Amsterdam, and which is extremely clearly written. Where in the music it sounds as if something is cut-up and glued to another, unrelated bit, that is exactly what happened: pages cut and glued together. It looks as if the score was finished, and then been cut-up here & there and episodes put in different places. In spite of many brilliant moments, it seems to me that it is not a strong work and the finale is something like a hilarious flop, a forced panick mingled with fake optimism.

    The fourths in the 1st mvt gave Schoenberg the idea of using chords made up of fourths instead of thirds, which he did in his 1st Chamber Symphony which is is best work. Mahler and Schoenberg discussed ideas of such harmonic explorations together at the time and even discussed tonality and the possibility of the absence of tonality. According to Alma, often Mahler got very irritated at such discussions and would throw Schoenberg out, but after a couple of weeks he would ask him back and the process would start all over again.

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      Mahler and Schoenberg discussing music !!!
      What a thought !!
      Oh to be a fly on the wall…..

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed….. Schoenberg often came together with Zemlinsky, who was a bit older than Schoenberg and considerably taller and thinner (Sch was a quite short man and rather stout). When Sch and M got into a heated debate, forcefully disagreeing, Zemlinsky would vainly try to calm down tempers, and when they were shown the door, the two were seen (by Alma, through the window) walking in the street, Sch wildly gesticulating and Zemlinsky mournfully shaking his head. They looked a bit like two cartoon figures then popular among children, so when Mahler longed to see Schoenberg again, to be able to pick-up the discussion, he would ask his wife: ‘Why wouldn’t you invite Eisele und Beisele again?’ Whether all of this is true, we can’t know since the report comes down from Alma, but somehow it is quite believable.

      • barry guerrero says:

        Mahler took Schoenberg seriously enough that before he died, he expressed concern for Schoenberg’s welfare to Alma – or so Alma repeatedly said. Anyway, they did buy some of Arnold’s lovely paintings, and I believe she did continue to help him after Mahler’s passing.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    My favorite bit of the Seventh is the quotation from “Chinatown, My Chinatown” in the finale.

  • Rob says:

    Wow this is one of the worst Mahler 7s I’ve ever heard and your review does not stack up. This is from a conductor who won’t conduct or record Mahler’s choral masterpiece, No 8, because he “doesn’t understand it.” Fischer’s Mahler leaves me stone cold and I’ve got rid of all my recordings from this conductor who talks alot but delivers clinical interpretations.