Mahler’s supersonic Seventh – a grand experiment in sensory colouration if ever there was one – needs no special pleading: it is what it is, a one-off, an oddity, a new departure of no fixed destination. But how different and how much more subtle and individual it sounds through the ears and fine sensibilities of a conductor whose fascination in it is apparent, indeed tangible, in every bar. Vladimir Jurowski is that conductor.
I’ve not heard the piece live for a while now and I’ve not really felt its alien fascination since Leonard Bernstein revelled in the composerly wilfullness and wild extravagance of it all. Until now. We all know that these are some of the most flabbergasting sounds that Mahler ever put on a page but recreating that sense of wondrous abtraction, of stop, look, and listen as if the sounds of nature can only be heard with this kind of clarity at night – this piece was not dubbed “song of the night” for no reason – is something else entirely.
The LPO excelled. Has the extraordinary “departure” at the heart of the first movement ever sounded more beautiful? Jurowski would have you think so in the way he had his violins phrase with such sensuous lightness on the string, so deftly “turned”. And then the uplift of Mahler’s Valkyries bounding towards a pagan procession with horns and trombones re-echoing each other, tambourines and tintabulations in shimmering excess.
And those exotic inner movements. Things that go bump in the night juxtaposing with elfin serenades. And the apotheosis of the dance – from piss-elegant minuets to stomping country dancing – that is the trumpet-festooned finale. The final sky-rocketing of trmpets (so brilliant) to one of the most expensive crescendos in all Mahler as that rather banal theme from the first movement attains the ascendancy amidst the clatter of cow bells. Cow heaven. Only Mahler could elevate the ordinary to something lofty in this way and only Jurowski could have us believing that it was lofty in the first place.