SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor – London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev – LSO Live

Second in a new Mahler Symphony series from the always-interesting Russian conductor.

Published on September 2, 2008

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor – London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev – LSO Live
MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor – London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev – LSO Live Multichannel SACD LSOO665, 72 min. **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

This is the second in a new Mahler Symphony series from the always-interesting Russian conductor.  My review of the initial LSO release will be found here.  The live 5.0-channel DSD recording was made just this March at London’s Barbican. I should probably reveal that the Seventh is my personal favorite Mahler symphony.  It is not as generally tragic-sounding as the Sixth, and is known for its three center movements of variously mysterious “night music.”  The two movements titled Nachtmusik I & II  frame a Scherzo subtitled “like a shadow” – clearly another type of night music.  In the first Nachtmusik the cowbells of the Sixth are heard again, along with woodwind suggestions of bird calls.  The eerie Scherzo scurries about and may hint of witches. The second Nachtmusik is a serenade with guitar, harp and mandolin making magical sounds.  The longer first and fifth movements are so different from the center three they almost seem to belong to another symphony, however they do share with the inside movements a focus on nature. The first movement has a series of three marches and one especially lovely theme.  The finale has a victorious mood to it amid a Mahlerian sort of humor. The symphony’s climax is one of the most extended and spectacular of any of his symphonies.

There are some worthwhile competitors to this Mahler performance in both standard and hi-res formats: Abaddo, Tilson-Thomas, and Bernstein among them. My favorite until now has been MTT’s SACD with the San Francisco Symphony.  The two conductors are somewhat similar in their approach to the Seventh, except that Gergiev wraps everything up four minutes sooner – perhaps due to his breakneck pace in the finale.  He does a beautiful job on the night music sections, and the clarity of the surround sonics points up all the small details in the playing of his first-rate orchestra. Some other online reviews mention a rather distant sound of the orchestra and an acoustic that lacks any ambience, but these reviewers were listening only to the CD layer of this hybrid disc. I’m afraid I seldom bother to check the CD option anymore, and I find the hi-res surround sonics to have just as much impact and transparency as the fine San Francisco Symphony recordings.  Contrary to sounding distant, I find the major orchestral climaxes come across with great immediacy and power, and now I’m torn between the two iterations.

 - John Sunier




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