Review: Matthias Pintscher leads gleaming Mahler Seventh Symphony with CSO
By Janelle Gelfand
Mahler’s sprawling Symphony No. 7 has been called a continual “feast for the ear.” It takes orchestral color to extraordinary heights, with shrieking clarinets, “snap” pizzicatos in the basses, cow bells, a mandolin, and weird and unusual timbres.
On Friday morning, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra presented Mahler’s Seventh for the first time in more than a decade. Conducting the work, Matthias Pintscher, the CSO’s creative partner, brought both imagination and clarity to Mahler’s least-understood symphony. In a work that is five movements over 80 unbroken minutes, Pinscher’s leadership was unflagging and inspired. Even the finale, which is often hard to pull off, was riveting.
In the end, it was a virtuoso showpiece for orchestra and, for both Pintscher and the musicians, a triumph.
Perhaps Pintscher’s most breathtaking contribution during his time in Cincinnati was Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (“The Song of the Earth”) which he conducted in 2021 during the pandemic for a livestream and a small live audience. This Mahler, though quite different, was equally satisfying.
The listener was instantly drawn into the Mahler sound world. The first movement opened with the distinctive timbre of the tenor tuba in the first theme, in a bold and gleaming solo performed by principal trombonist Cristian Ganicenco. From the start, Pintscher was a precise leader who communicated each phrase with an easy musicality. The strings had a brilliant sheen, especially in their impassioned second theme. The Mahler universe included clipped marches, softly echoing trumpet fanfares, ever-changing hues in the winds and a serene moment of celestial beauty in harps and flutes. It was magical, and the conductor allowed every detail to unfold in living color.
“Nachtmusik I” was more sinister in tone. The movement included echoing horn calls (Elizabeth Freimuth), fantastical bird calls in the winds, haunting marches, cow bells and odd things that go “bump in the night.” Pintscher wove these unsettled elements into a coherent tapestry, and the orchestra played with split-second precision.
At the symphony’s center is a scherzo unlike any other. It was spectral in tone, but Pintscher also emphasized its edgy quality, offering a vivid and quirky tone picture. After such spookiness, “Nachtmusik II” emerged like a delicate sunrise. It was a pastoral serenade, colored by an intimate mandolin (Paul Patterson), the plucking of a guitar (Roger Klug), and a radiant violin solo (concertmaster Stefani Matsuo).
Pintscher’s tempos were well-judged throughout and transitions were seamless. The finale, which begins with a battering of timpani and fanfares in brass and winds, was utterly exuberant. Then, suddenly, we were in the Viennese countryside. The conductor kept this episodic movement from descending into confusion. Each idea was clear and controlled. Horns and clarinets lifted their bells and lighter moments glowed. In the coda, Pintscher propelled the orchestra to a brilliant finish in a flurry of brass fanfares, cowbells and chimes. Listeners were on their feet.