Germany Mahler: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Kirill Petrenko (conductor). Philharmonie Berlin, 26.8.2022, and livestreamed on Digital Concert Hall. (GT)
Mahler – Symphony No.7 in C major
Having heard this great symphony performed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival just a few days ago in an outstanding performance by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (review here), it was an unexpected pleasure to hear Mahler’s Seventh again played by one of the world’s best orchestras and especially as it is arguably the least performed and least understood of the Austrian master’s symphonies.
Kirill Petrenko has shown himself as one of the finest conductors today, and particularly in the great symphonic masterpieces of philosophical substance. His interpretations are always thoroughly researched and intend to offer his own distinct interpretation. Last season, Petrenko gave a memorable reading of Mahler’s tragic Sixth Symphony here in Berlin, and hence this opening season performance was keenly awaited. The Seventh Symphony was first performed here in 1920, and between 1930 and 1957 there came a gap in its performances, however the symphony has since been championed by Abbado, Haitink and more recently Sir Simon Rattle who conducted it with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
Described by Mahler as a cheerful and even humorous work, the Seventh has been troubled by a lack of understanding by listeners. The opening Langsam – Allegro risoluto, ma non troppo movement began on the double basses and with a shadowy solo from the tenor horn of Christhard Gössling combined with the strings in an idea – appearing a little naïve – which becomes more momentous when heard on the violins and then on the glorious brass. Here one was impressed by the gorgeous melodious playing of the brass section of the BPO as if evoking fanfares from the composer’s childhood. The heavenly theme heard on the trumpets and picked up on the harps led to a tremendous sequence before the first Nachtmusik.
In a shimmering intonation – as if in the half-light – we heard the theme in the tenor horn and then on the muted horns, which assisted by the clarinets and the bassoon led to a spell-binding passage of playing invoking birdsong. The brief attractive Scherzo, opened on the timpani and then the woodwind alongside a waltz from the strings, it was further enhanced by a solo passage from the bassoon of Daniel Damiano, followed by solo violin (Daishin Kashimoto) and a fine passage from the tuba of Alexander von Puttkamer.
In the second Nachtmusik movement, we heard a charming sequence of woodwind and horn playing, then after a solo violin the idea passed to the mandolin played by Alexander Ivić and guitar of Matthew Hunter against the strings invoking a serenade from Don Giovanni; followed by notably fine playing from the oboe of Jonathan Kelly, Emmanuel Pahud on flute and the clarinet of Andreas Ottensamer creating an idyllic idiom with the harps in a passage of almost heavenly playing.
The Rondo Finale opened dramatically on the timpani and horns and was tremendously uplifting with grippingly stirring playing. Nostalgically, the cowbells evoked the sound of cattle in the far-off distance leading to a boundlessly fabulous culmination. This was an immensely exciting performance in which Kirill Petrenko showed all the elements of a great Mahlerian conductor.
Certainly, this opening concert in the Berlin Philharmonic’s season augers well with future performances of Thomas Adès, Xenakis, Dallapiccola, Unsuk Chin, Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Pfitzner, Sarah Willis, Salonen, Lutoslawski, Hosokawa, Ligeti, Ginastera, Julia Wolfe, together with Mozart, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner from their core repertoire which guarantees an intriguingly interesting concert season.