Mahler: Symphony No. 7 - Vänskä

Mahler: Symphony No. 7 - Vänskä

BIS  BIS-2386

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, conductor

In an effort to arrange the first performance of his Seventh Symphony, Gustav Mahler declared it to be his best work, ‘preponderantly cheerful in character’. His younger colleague Schoenberg expressed his admiration for the work, and Webern considered it his favourite Mahler symphony. Nevertheless, it remains the least performed and least written-about symphony of the entire cycle, and has come to be regarded as enigmatic and less successful than its siblings. One reason for this has been the huge – even for Mahler – contrasts that it encompasses: from a first movement which seems to continue the atmosphere of the previous symphony, the ‘Tragic’ Sixth, to a finale that has been accused of excessive triumphalism, and which Mahler himself once described as ‘broad daylight’. Between these two poles, he supplies no less than two movements entitled Nachtmusik (‘night music’) framing a scherzo to which the composer added the character marking schattenhaft (‘shadowy’).

Mahler famously said that ‘a symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.’ The Seventh is as true to this dictum as any other of the symphonies, offering a wealth of emotions, moods and colours. The composer makes full and imaginative use of the orchestra’s extended wind and percussion sections – including cowbells, whips and glockenspiel – as well as a mandolin and a guitar, adding a troubadour-like aspect to the nightly serenade of the fourth movement. All of this is brought to life by the players of the Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä, as they continue a cycle praised for the performances as well as the recorded sound.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - July 18, 2020

The seemingly unstoppable growth of competing interpretations on disc of the Mahler symphonic oeuvre that began in the 1970’s and 80’s still shows no signs of diminishing. A glance at the current listings of the composer’s symphonies, that includes more and more recorded in high resolution sound, confirm that Mahler’s oft quoted saying ‘My time will come’ has arrived with a vengeance.

Until quite recently, however, that was not the case with the 7th Symphony that the composer premiered in Prague in 1908. For many years received critical opinion was negative about many aspects of the piece; the enigmatic character of the music, the contrast between the two forceful outer movements and the three strange ‘nocturnal’ middle movements not to mention the technical challenges it presented for both performers and audiences. The genesis of this Symphony and the many puzzling aspects of its composition are explored with considerable insight in Jeremy Bareham’s perceptive liner notes accompanying this SACD and explain why the work quickly came to be regarded as ‘problematic’ and why it rarely made its way into the concert hall or the recording studio. Fortunately this is no longer the case, and when, as on this new release, this Symphony is performed with absolute conviction by a top-flight orchestra and a conductor whose concern for textural clarity and sense of drama is a hallmark of his many recordings, the result can be revelatory.

This is the sixth release to appear in Osmo Vänskä’s steadily emerging Mahler cycle that began with the 5th Symphony in 2017 and I would rate it as one of the finest so far in terms of interpretation, execution and sound quality. Vänskä’s very measured tempo for the opening of the work with its baleful tenor horn solo eloquently delivered by R Douglas Wright is strikingly different from those of other versions that I have used for comparison purposes. As the movement progresses it becomes apparent that there is considerable flexibility in the conductor’s approach. Dynamics are carefully gauged, rhythms sharply articulated and phrasing is shapely with inner lines clearly enunciated. In the lovely central section of this movement with its spectral trumpet fanfares and bird calls Vänskä and his musicians engender a magical sense of stillness and anticipation. As the march returns Vänskä maintains his dogged tempo in accordance with the composer’s marking ‘risoluto’ and drives the music to a powerful conclusion.

After such an individual first movement it was something of a surprise to find that Vänskä’s speeds for the remaining movements of the symphony are unexceptionable and adhere quite closely to those adopted by other interpreters. In both of the contrasting Nachtmusik movements the conductor’s pacing, attention to dynamics, balance and phrasing are scrupulous and refreshingly free of any interpretive mannerisms. The central scherzo is swift and lithe with the players relishing the inventiveness of Mahler’s orchestral effects and the novelty of the work’s instrumentation that variously includes, mandolin, guitar, harps, rute, cowbells and tubular bells.

The uninhibited account of the whirlwind finale is exceptionally thrilling and marked by the kind of precision from the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra that we have come to expect of them during Vänskä’s long tenure as their music director. They are guided with absolute assurance by him through the contrapuntal maelstrom and stylistic diversity that characterises this movement and respond unfailingly with incisive playing of the utmost commitment and virtuosity.

The Symphony was recorded in November 2018 at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis by the experienced BIS team of Robert Suff (Producer) and Thore Brinkmann (Sound engineer) in 5.0 multi-channel and the usual BIS 24-bit / 96 kHz format. The recording is a model of refinement and transparency in which all the strands of Mahler’s complex symphonic argument can be clearly discerned in a manner that would be almost impossible for one to experience to the full in the concert hall, yet the overall sound has a pleasing coherence and naturalness.

For those intent on collecting Vänskä’s Mahler traversal this will be a mandatory choice.
Others have the enviable opportunity to choose from a plethora of modern versions of Mahler’s most enigmatic symphony on disc to which this most impressive release can confidently be added.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and


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Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (17)

Comment by Dissonance - June 2, 2020 (1 of 17)

Symphony No. 10 (Cooke III) will be the next installment, the release date is yet unknown. The recording sessions took place at the Orchestra Hall in June 2019 shortly after the Season Finale Concerts. A short video of the live performance is on YouTube, an extract from the third movement, Purgatorio:

Comment by john hunter - June 2, 2020 (2 of 17)

At last it looks like we will get a decent M10.
We seem to have numerous other versions expect one from Mr Cooke who got the ball rolling.
Looking forward to this.
Ta Robert-once again.

Comment by philip edwards - June 3, 2020 (3 of 17)

This is sonically superb. Even though I have quite a few M7s on SACD I thought I would add just one more. I’m glad I did. Very enjoyable interpretation, less nervy than some. The joyous last movement is quite glorious, the best I know, especially for the integration of the percussion parts.

Comment by Dissonance - June 4, 2020 (4 of 17)

The ’Mahler - Symphony No. 10’ program notes for the Season Finale concerts, available for download in pdf on the website of Minnesota Orchestra, gives some speculation on the total time of an SA-CD, indicating the performance lasted ca. 80 minutes. Knowing Vänskä's distinctive approaching to Mahler it may well be possible the performance will last even over 80 minutes. We will see...

Comment by Graham Williams - June 6, 2020 (5 of 17)

As Dissonance has stated the Orchestra has also recorded Mahler’s Tenth Symphony for a future release. The project will continue with performances and recording sessions of the Third Symphony in March 2021 and the Ninth Symphony in June 2021, the latter of which was originally scheduled for June 2020, but was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comment by Dissonance - June 6, 2020 (6 of 17)

The website of Minnesota Orchestra shows the performers of Mahler’s Third Symphony, concerts firstly scheduled for 18-20 March, 2020:

Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Women of the Minnesota Chorale
Minnesota Boychoir
Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, conductor

As Graham noted above the performances and recording sessions have been moved to March 2021 due to the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is very likely the recording team will remain the same as it has been up to this point: Robert Suff (recording producer & executive producer), Thore Brinkmann (sound engineer) & Matthias Spitzbarth (editing). Once finished BIS’s Mahler cycle will absolutely be one of the most significant and without a doubt best recorded.

Comment by Dissonance - June 9, 2020 (7 of 17)

I really do enjoy BIS’s new the cardboard ecopack; it feels much more pleasant to the hands compared to plastic case, knowing it’s all recyclable brings about my conscience clean and the book-like appearance wakes up nostalgic memories on the vinyl sleeves. Moreover it’s thinner than plastic cases so there are more space on the CD shelves! Thumbs up for Robert!

Comment by DYB - July 2, 2020 (8 of 17)

I'm listening to this right now and I'm blown away by the recorded sound, even in stereo (listening with good headphones). It's immersive, full bodied, every section is crystal-clear, perfectly balanced. I could imagine this is what standing on the conductor's podium sounds like.

The interpretation is 1st rate as well: energetic, humorous and with the right light touch for the Nachtmusik movements. The whole thing is exhilarating.

Comment by Paul Hannah - July 4, 2020 (9 of 17)

Sorry but I must disagree

Vanska upon whom I have heaped much praise for his Sibelius cycle [ not SACD but the best there is in my humble opinion ] just can't cut it on Mahler

There is not one of his Mahler symphony's on this BIS cycle that I would own ! And I have listened to them all hoping I had missed something........But no......just dull !

Sorry but Bernstein & Solti or the new up and coming Currentzis know what Mahler is passion sorrow high emotion life death ........maybe its just too cold where Vanska comes from.

Given all the other reviews were positive............I'd better start running for the hills before I lose my scalp LOL

But Vanska and Mahler are just a no go !

Comment by DYB - July 4, 2020 (10 of 17)

I mean, there's more than one way to skin a cat. I love Bernstein too. I like Solti. Currentzis strikes me as just an agent of chaos so I have a hard time taking him seriously, though I do find some of the things he does interesting. Vänskä's approach doesn't have to please everyone.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - July 12, 2020 (11 of 17)

Will we ever agree on The Best Mahler recordings? Impossible. There is no ‘definitive’ version. Have a look at The Gramophone’s Top 10 Mahler symphony recordings (updated 2019). Except for No. 4 (Fisher on Channel Classics) and remastered versions of Bernstein and Abbado, not one in Super Audio and none of Vänskä. And wasn’t it Michael Tilson Thomas who got a Grammy Award for his M7? He’s not on the G-list. So, Paul, nothing to apologize for. Aren’t we lucky that so many conductors want to immortalize themselves by recording at least one complete Mahler cycle? It gives us ample opportunity to like or dislike and everything in between.

Comment by hiredfox - July 17, 2020 (12 of 17)

No doubt what we can agree on is how pleasurable it is that so many surveyors of the Symphonies have deemed the SACD medium essential to expose the full palette of colours and emotions hidden in the scores.

It seems to me unnecessary and even unhelpful to try to rank these performances as every one offers new insights and interpretations. Musical appreciation does not follow a script or formula, what matters only is what it means to us at the time we hear it.

We have more Mahler sets than any normal person would regard as sane but every one of them contains elements of performances that have the power to lift our spirits and broaden our vision.

Comment by breydon_music - July 22, 2020 (13 of 17)

Just to add to the rich variety I see that Tower have remastered an Ancerl Supraphon Mahler symphony cycle for release in the next month or so.

Comment by Athenaeus - July 22, 2020 (14 of 17)

Ančerl's recordings of Mahler 1 and 9 were released by Tower Records in November 2018. What's upcoming is a complete set of Mahler's symphonies under the baton of Václav Neumann, who was Ančerl's successor as chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. Tower Records are supposed to release this August 12th.

Comment by Paul Hannah - September 20, 2020 (15 of 17)

Thanks for your thoughts Adrian.......nice to know I don't have to run for the hills LOL

Have to agree with DBY's comment on the young Currentzis I like his Tchaikovsky 6th but his recent attempt at Beethoven's 5th was nothing more than woeful . Maybe I need to amend my earlier praise of him.

Comment by DYB - September 21, 2020 (16 of 17)

Paul Hannah, Currentzis' Tchaikovsky 6 is the one I also like quite a lot, though he does a lot of strange things. In many ways it's the polar opposite of Petrenko's inaugural recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, which is also great.

Comment by Dissonance - December 23, 2020 (17 of 17)

Symphony No. 10 (Cooke III) is due to release on 5th March 2021 (BIS-2396), listed on several Japanese sellers as well as Presto: