Gustav Mahler’s music is better known for irony rather than a comic sensibility, but his Symphony No. 7 in E minor will make you reconsider. Start with the scoring. To the usual orchestral resources, add a tenorhorn (usually heard in brass bands), guitar, mandolin, two Glockenspiels, tambourine, cowbells and a rute, a bundle of sticks slapped against a drum case. Mahler has never been more of a shape-shifter and you can hear how he relishes moving from moody introspection to marches to lush string melodies in a matter of measures.
The two “Night Music” movements are fully realized soundscapes of nocturnal worlds surrounding the central scherzo’s galumphing waltz that conjures up ghosts of the wrong side of Oktoberfests past. The symphony’s conclusion is deftly tongue-in-cheek.
This complex work challenges the most experienced conductors, which makes it the perfect assignment for Paavo Jrvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Jrvi has given audiences superb performances of Mahler’s works and the CSO is sounding better than ever. Jrg Widmann’s Anniversary Fanfare opens the evening. If you leave still convinced that Mahler is nothing more than serious bombast, the joke’s on you. The CSO presents Mahler's symphony at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.
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