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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Nagano’s Mahler 7th: A Fresh Reading

By Paul Serralheiro / January 30, 2007

Via the controlled, crisp sound of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano presented an intelligent, fresh reading of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on the evening of January 23, 2007, at the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of the Place des Arts. While not Mahler’s most esteemed work, the Seventh symphony contains material of varied colour and shape, from disturbing somber moments, to plaintive strains, to outbursts of joy. The writing’s dramatic contrasts were especially evident in the puzzling fifth movement (Rondo-Final: Allegro ordinario) which has been condemned by past critics and audiences as incoherent and pointless—but it sounded especially fresh and modern as delivered under Kent Nagano by the MSO, perhaps a sign of Mahler’s writing being ahead of its time—audiences not having been quite ready for it. To these ears, it sounded like the discontinuous sound pastiches of John Zorn, containing as it did the postmodern shifts of texture and meaning we are, by now, so used to. In the simple melodic fragments that don’t go anywhere, Nagano created interest by highlighting and dramatizing the contrast and cutting off the fragments sharply. The contours of the klezmer-like phrasing were accented, rather than subsumed in a more genteel orchestral style.

Other memorable moments in the 75-minute or so performance that featured Mahler’s symphony exclusively came in the quiet fourth movement (Nachtmusik II: Andante amoroso) with the unusual orchestral setting of the guitar and mandolin which filled the big hall with intimate melodies of a sweet and sensitive nature.

Although the string playing was impeccable with quirky effects demanded by the score, like the flapping of the strings against the neck (resembling sudden flights of birds or the stomping of peasant dancers’ feet) where executed perfectly, the brass writing was especially notable. From the opening tenor horn call, to the numerous horn themes, to the intricate trumpet figures of the last movement, the MSO’s brass was kept beautifully busy. Likewise, woodwind melodies arose lyrically and percussion delivered a myriad of effects like the shepherd’s bells in the third movement and the dominant chimes underscoring the delightful cacophony of the final movement.

Kudos to Nagano and the MSO for daring to approach Mahler’s most questionable symphony, giving it a more than respectful reading and seeing that the “banalities” the work has been accused are the rustic element so important in the romantic imagination, leaving this listener, at least, with the impression that this work—often subtitled “Song of the Night”—could be Mahler’s Pastoral symphony.

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