Mahler Symphony No. 7 – Orchestra National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch | Flying Inkpot

Mahler Symphony No.7 in E minor
Orchestra National de Lille
Alexandre Bloch, conductor
Released September 2020

[1h 14min]
Alpha Classics 592
https://outhere-music.com/en/albums/symphony-no-7-alpha592

Review by Derek Lim

Mahler’s Seventh Symphony takes well to a diverse range of interpretations. This latest release, by the Orchestra National de Lille, conducted by Alexandre Bloch, presents a rather French performance – long on beauty and colour, not as heavy on the Germanic rhetoric and much lighter on the textures.

Horn calls come off quite blasely, not as militarily precise as you might be used to, in the long first movement, with lovely, very chamber-feel contributions on the strings and the obligato winds and brass. There is at 11:46 a wondrous ascent to the rarified (night) mountain air that Mahler must have certainly breathed, but unlike some other interpretations it is relatively free of neuroses and tragedy in the following passages, so that the subsequent collapse and return to the divided quavers isn’t as cathartic as some, but whoever said that Mahler needed to always be serious? Bloch emphasizes propulsion and isn’t afraid to take some virtuosic passages rather speedily, an antidote to the ponderous interpretations out there. The bacchanalian coda glitters and dances raucously.

The three central night music movements are riots of colour and the orchestra play here with suavity, charm and oodles of colour from every section. Bloch shapes the first Nachtmusik’s phrases winningly, just a hint of rallentando, just a bit of a breath [3:30] to make you enjoy the next phrase. The night bird woodwinds are out in full force, but interestingly are heard in perspective with the rest of the orchestra instead of being spotlit – the balance favours the strings, if anything, and you get to hear a lot of detail from them, but in passages such as the march around [4:45] the winds are drowned out instead of having both string and woodwind lines being heard equally. Still, there are plenty of colours to enjoy elsewhere – the plaintive ‘Jewish’ music around 7:30 is particularly enjoyable. Mahler’s music is full of humour and Bloch and his orchestra will certainly make you smile as you follow the many transformations the music takes.

The shadowy (Schattenhaft) witches’ Scherzo is hair-raising, loose-limbed stuff and appropriately spooky and shrieky, with whoops from the string glissandi daringly taken, when the music isn’t tip-toeing away from the mock horror of it all – still charming, but just a little demented.

The amorous (Andante amoroso) Nachtmusik takes us to manicured gardens with naughty sculptures and gushing fountains – resolutely urban and contrasting to the nature that Mahler infused into his earlier movements. Taken quickly here, Bloch reads this as an intermezzo before the sun-filled Allegro ordinario Finale – instead of the tear-drenched affair that some make it to be – some passages even sound a bit rushed. Still, lots of colour, and nostalgia in abundance.

The Finale is an orchestral showpiece and, depending on how you listen to it, either the crumbling facade of fin de siecle Vienna or just pure C-major extravagance. Taken as a companion piece to his Sixth symphony, which ends in absolute, unremitting tragedy and shares the same A-major to A-minor seal, finishing in C major was, I feel Mahler’s way of exorcising his demons, however temporarily. Is the grazioso of the music quoting Lehar’s Merry Widow insincere, put-on? Bloch doesn’t seem to think so, and the orchestra often attacks the music with daring virtuosity, impetuosity and vigour. If you can’t do a Horenstein-esque measured build-up of this movement, then by all means play through it like your life depends on it – which is precisely what Bloch and his orchestra do. The result is exciting and a valid approach as any – Bloch doesn’t try to rein in and let go, or attempt to shape the music the way Jascha Horenstein does. The peaks and valleys do flatten out after a bit, but it is thrilling, and never boring.

All things considered, a worthy and different take on this underrated symphony.

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