This recording took place in May 2018, towards the end of Kirill Petrenko’s eight-year tenure with the Bavarian State Opera. He is the Siberian-born conductor appointed to lead the Berlin Philharmonic in 2019 after Simon Rattle’s departure. Petrenko (no relation to the conductor Vassily Petrenko) has made few recordings, and mostly refuses to be photographed or interviewed: quite a contrast to a former Berlin Philharmonic maestro named Karajan.
Mahler’s Seventh Symphony was for decades the odd one out, but today’s conductors have taken a shine to it. Of the nine, it is the most experimental in orchestral texture. It is less emotive than Symphonies Six and Nine, but instead presents a spooky vision of the night. Two movements are named Nachtmusik, a march and a serenade, while the scherzo is more deeply macabre than any waltz by Saint-Saëns. The finale is one of the most difficult of Mahler’s pieces to hold together: its rambunctious, unsettled zaniness betrays a dangerous edge.
The orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera is a fine one. These players relish Mahler’s challenges, but the live recording reveals the odd imprecision of ensemble. One occurs early in the fourth movement, although the closing section is tranquillity itself. Petrenko does not emphasise macabre elements with the point brought to them by Bernstein, Solti, or Sinopoli. More damagingly, his finale is heavily grounded: he tries to make it ceremonial and triumphant, but the ramshackle form fights him all the way. Of recent recordings, I prefer the more imaginative approach of Osmo Vänskä with the Minnesota Orchestra on BIS.
Work: Symphony No 7
Performers: Bavarian State Orchestra, Kirill Petrenko
Label: Bayerische Staatsorchester BSCREC0001