New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Friday, 9 November
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke
Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony may be one of the least well-known of its ilk, but Edo de Waart and the New Zealand
Symphony Orchestra made a compelling case on Friday night for a reassessment. They showed us a work of immense variety,
surprising contrast and delicate shades of light and dark.
The tone was set beautifully in the opening movement, with muted horns apparently calling us to some dark adventure. In
this movement, as throughout, there was a fine sense of balance, almost ambiguity – a willingness to let different moods
contrast each other without any sense of conflict.
De Waart’s masterful handling of the material was evident in the exceptional cohesion of the performance, despite its
harmonic ambiguities and wildly contrasting parts. In the second movement, for instance, there was already a spectral
quality that melted seamlessly into the ‘ghost of a waltz’ that was the third movement. In that movement, in turn, the
elaboration of a march-like theme harked back to earlier motifs.
Throughout there were delightful moments – the harps suddenly rising up with a wave of summer -like sound in the first
movement, the plaintive woodwinds in the second, the wonderful call and answer of the horns in various places, the
restless strings summoning up images of dark shapes flitting through the night.
The fourth movement, meanwhile, managed to sound intimate but still expansive. I wasn’t convinced that the mandolin
sounded properly integrated into the movement as a whole, but that’s more a criticism of the writing than the
performance itself. And there was nothing to fault in the finale, in which all the earlier elements were seamlessly
integrated, and sparkles of light coalesced into a blinding blaze.