March 7 was the last time the Minnesota Orchestra played live before an audience, and the silence since has been immensely frustrating for both players and their followers.
Relief is at hand, though, with the latest CD in the Mahler symphony series that the orchestra has been recording for the Swedish label BIS.
Symphony 7 was taped over three days in November 2018, following two performances at Orchestra Hall. The sixth of 10 releases in the Mahler series conducted by music director Osmo Vänskä, it easily matches the high standards set by earlier installments.
The Seventh was long considered a rough cousin among Mahler’s nine completed symphonies, not quite the equal of the popular Fifth and the transcendent Ninth.
That view has changed, however, and listeners fresh to the piece will lap up Vänskä’s typically direct, full-hearted approach, and his ability to make Mahler’s vivid orchestral colorations pop and tingle.
The two “Night Music” movements are packed with piquant detail, while the slithering instability and frayed nerve ends of the central Scherzo are brilliantly summoned by the players.
But the often troublesome finale — widely criticized for its rowdiness and apparently slapdash structure — is perhaps the interpretation’s major triumph.
Here Vänskä’s ability with Mahler to see the bigger picture without skimming over detail pays major dividends.
He knits the various, often wildly disparate episodes together with canny tempo choices, and as the conclusion approaches there’s a tingling sense of joy and exhilaration.
A word about the sound quality: Producer Robert Suff and engineer Thore Brinkmann present the orchestra with both power and transparency, in a recording that clarifies this complex score to a rare degree.
Available for purchase at minnesotaorchestra.org, this may well be the best-sounding Seventh on record, and with the Minnesota Orchestra on cracking form, it is certainly among the most artistically satisfying of the 40-plus versions currently available.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.