- Symphony No. 7 in E minor ("Song of the Night")
Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 7" has been subject to perhaps a greater variety of interpretations than any of his other orchestral works, with a classic version by Hermann Scherchen clocking in at well under 70 minutes but one by Otto Klemperer with the New Philharmonia Orchestra lasting more than 100. Is the work a big orchestral nocturne, as its later nickname, "Song of the Night," suggested? Is it a philosophical statement? An expression of Viennese neurosis? The work seems to spill over its own boundaries in an almost random way, but analysis reveals a careful overall harmonic structure. Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer, with his closely associated Budapest Festival Orchestra, leans toward the quick end of the spectrum (it's just under 75 minutes long), but the overall tone is warm, without the histrionic surprises of Leonard Bernstein's approach to Mahler. Only in the central Scherzo is there a real bite. Sample the finale, where he lets the movement's uneasy shifts of tonality and thematic material speak for themselves rather than putting you on a careening roller coaster ride, and he emerges at the end with real sunniness. In his hands the work is something of a song of the night -- and morning. Fischer, whose younger brother Adam has also recorded this work (how's that for sibling rivalry?), has the kind of control over the orchestra that comes from long acquaintance. This offers an X factor in the recording's favor, as does Channel Classics' fine sound from the Palace of Arts in Budapest and Fischer's own extensive reflections in the booklet. A recommended version of this thorny symphony.