Jiri Starek / Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

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Mahler: Symphony No. 7 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Jirí Stárek and the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra performed Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 7 in concert on September 19, 2008, and gave a generally effective run-through, despite a lot of roughness around the edges. This recording on Vysocina is certainly superior to the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra's performance under Václav Jirácek, which was released on Olympic Records in 1973 and became notorious for its odd tempos and reckless playing. The orchestra has improved over the decades, and while there are instances of scrappiness here and there, and a serious collapse in the finale, the musicians stay pretty much on course. Stárek clearly has an interpretation he wants to communicate, but his use of rubato seems to throw off some of the players and makes the first movement a bit of a scramble. The first Nachtmusik is less chaotic and more relaxed, and most of the quirkiness is actually in the score, rather than in the execution. Better playing is found in the sinister Scherzo, where Stárek maintains a driving beat and the orchestra responds with inspired malevolence, and in the second Nachtmusik, which is appropriately amorous and comical. The Rondo-Finale is a bumpy ride, even in the best circumstances, but here Stárek mostly pulls it together and gets impressive results, despite the orchestra's dire confusion between 11:20 and 12:30. The usual audience sounds and some extraneous clattering can be heard in the background, but this live recording isn't overly noisy. The sound, however, is oddly mixed, so some instruments stick out when least expected.

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