Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is a kind of sonic Grand Canyon: It’s a breathtaking wonder, a marvel of musical emotion that can only be fully appreciated in person. No recording, no YouTube video can ever do it justice.
Mahler’s sprawling, 85-minute orchestral essay is anchoring the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s program this weekend at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Often called “Song of the Night” because of its two serenading “Night Music” inner movements, the Seventh is the least performed of Mahler’s nine complete symphonies. Yet it’s among his most remarkable works.
The Seventh is one of Mahler’s “victory symphonies,” but it’s not a triumph over tragedy. Rather, it is a sonic journey from darkness into light. For Mahler, the Seventh Symphony was a return to life and to light after the utter, tragic darkness of his Sixth Symphony. Music director Giancarlo Guerrero obviously got that meaning, since he gave such an exuberant, life-affirming performance on Friday night.
Guerrero’s reading of the expansive first movement – with its hauntingly beautiful tenor horn solos – had a little bit of everything: power, brilliance, a hint of mystery and even a little dreaminess. He was mindful of the details – every instrumental solo stood out in bold relief – but he also had a clear sense of the movement’s overall shape and architecture. Indeed, under Guerrero’s direction, Mahler’s sudden, careening shifts in mood and tone seemed not only logical but inevitable.
The NSO’s performance of the symphony’s three central movements featured some of the evening’s most colorful and characterful music. There was a knowing swagger in the second-movement “Nachtmusik” – not to mention an appealing swirl of vibrant woodwind colors. Guerrero did an eccentric little dance on the podium during the Scherzo to encourage his players to bring out the movement’s spectral qualities. The fourth-movement “Nachtmusik” – with its trademark mandolin accompaniment – had a kind of folksy, Alpine charm.
The performance concluded with an exuberant rendition of the finale that won not just a standing ovation (a rather commonplace gesture at your typical classical concert) but sustained rhythmic clapping. Now that’s a real accomplishment.
Friday’s concert opened with Victor Herbert’s seldom-heard Cello Concerto No. 2. While Herbert’s concerto is not one of the repertoire’s landmark works, it’s nevertheless an entertaining piece, especially when it gets the sort of virtuoso treatment that soloist Julie Albers gave on Friday night.
Throughout her performance, Albers played with a bright, lean tone that emphasized this concerto’s inherent lyricism. Guerrero and the NSO accompanied with flexibility and feeling, which helped Albers win an admittedly commonplace but much deserved ovation.
IF YOU GO
Nashville Symphony performs Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. The performance is 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tickets are $23 to $138. Call 687-6400 or click here.