Simon Rattle

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

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Regarded by some as Mahler's "long night of the soul," and disparaged by others as a hodgepodge of odd effects bordering on self-parody, the Symphony No. 7, "The Song of the Night," is both sublime in its nocturnal evocations and, arguably, preposterous in its post-Romantic excesses. Performances of this paradoxical work tend to fall into two groups: unconvincing travesties that play up the work's histrionics and bombast, or compelling readings that draw out the symphony's deeper emotions, in spite of the clatter, and balance its apparent incongruities in a unified interpretation. Sir Simon Rattle's recording with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra belongs in the latter category, for its expressive depth, unsensational treatment of the score's peculiarities, and coherent progress from the gloomy opening to the bravura conclusion. This recording is patched together from the best takes of two performances at the 1991 Aldeburgh Festival, and the composite results might seem to belie the unity of the interpretation. But Rattle and the orchestra create a real sense of propulsion and symphonic trajectory, and if the editing eliminated faulty playing, it did not impair the conductor's clear vision or impede the players' momentum. EMI's recording is generally fine, though a volume adjustment may be necessary at the beginning of the boisterous Rondo-Finale.

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