Something To Listen To: Lorin Maazel & The Pittsburgh Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony no. 7

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

Those who know me even a little bit know that I love Mahler.

Those who know me slightly better than that know that if I had a gun to my head asking which symphony I like most, I would say the Seventh, although I might just be saying that to save myself long enough to get home to listen to the Ninth.

Those who know me even better than that know that I love the Pittsburgh Symphony going back to the William Steinberg days on through until today.

And those who know my innermost secrets know I don’t really care all that much for Lorin Maazel, having in fact been made fun of by a musical friend of tremendous gifts for recommending his 1960’s Sibelius cycle (it was only $20 at the time!).

But I owe Lorin Maazel a few thanks.  He helped “re-put” the Pittsburgh Symphony on the musical map when he was Music Director in the ’80’s and 90’s after Andre Previn sort of…how shall I say it?…sucked balls for 8 years.  There are a small number of readily available nice recordings from his time there, the best probably being a raucous Saint- Saens “Organ” Symphony, and there’s even another Sibelius cycle for people to make fun of me for.

The recording included here is of the early vintage: October 1989.  The concert took place in Warsaw, Poland.  Let us all look back fondly at what a completely insane time that was…the Berlin Wall would come down in literally weeks and the Soviet Union was in the process of unraveling.  I can’t actually say that any of this has any particular bearing on this performance, but I just wanted to take a look back at the seminal world event of my childhood.

At any rate…on to the performance.

I’ll spare you the program notes on this work, as you could read them somewhere else written by someone much better than I.  In fact, you could read Phillip Huscher’s notes for the Chicago Symphony right here.  He is smarter than me.  We know this.  Suffice it to say, this piece is subtitled “Song of the Night,” a subtitle which Mahler never used or endorsed in any way, so you know it’s good.

This is music of darkness turning to light.  Night turning to day.  And everything that entails:  the march of night itself, those peaceful dreams, nightmares, and the oppression of the sun breaking in to save us or destroy us depending on your mattress quality.  There are two beautiful Nachtmusik movements (#s 2 & 4) that are neither Eine nor Kleine, but they are as lovely as anything Mahler ever wrote (and the 4th movement has guitar and mandolin in it).  The 3rd movement is marked schattenhaft, which means shadowy, and it probably the best musically descriptive direction for a movement I can imagine…perfectly applicable.

The brass player lurking deep inside me loves the Pittsburgh Symphony because of their brass section.  They have a brass quintet that has a Christmas CD affectionately referred to as “Angry Christmas.”  This same quintet has a CD of the Art of the Fugue that would make Bach roll over in his grave, consider exhuming himself, attempt to extract his own DNA, implant it into a cyborg-human hybrid, and live in the days of modern brass instruments.  It’s fucking incredible.  And my two favorite heroes are principal horn William Caballero and principal trumpet George Vosburgh (see comment below regarding principal trumpet possibilities from a PSO guy in the know), both of whom shine like Baby Jesus at your local pageant in this performance.

Maazel’s tempi are pretty much what you might expect out of Lorin Maazel.  I’ll leave it to those of you who know about Lorin Maazel to determine what you think that means.  This is not my favorite performance of this work, but it’s so splendidly Pittsburghian that I simply cannot help enjoy it.  Perhaps some of you will as well.

This performance was captured from WQED’s internet stream, which broadcasts at 56K.  I had initially converted it to a 192K mp3 file, but it had some blips in the sound, so it is now a lossless FLAC file, available at the following links in 4 parts:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

RapidShare is a great service…you can download for free, though it will take time if you don’t sign up for an account (which does cost, but is worth it).  It’s a simple process, and if you have the patience to wait and download the links over the course of a few hours, everything will be completely and utterly free to you, which is nice in these economic times, or when you’re a trillionaire like me.

There are a few tools you will need to listen to this, and these will come in handy if you ever want to listen to any performances from pretty much anyone that are available like this (it’s even legal or something!).  The first is a media player that plays FLAC files.  Get yourself a copy of VLC Media Player here…it’s free and incredibly useful…it plays literally anything I can think of.  Also, because the size of these performances tend to be large, the files need to be broken into parts, and I use a program called HJ-Split, which you can get here…it’s also free.

Wow, that was boring technical jargon.  This blog is about music.  Listen to it if you like!

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4 thoughts on “Something To Listen To: Lorin Maazel & The Pittsburgh Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony no. 7

  1. Just wanted to let you know that the PSO performance of Mahler 7 in Warsaw was before George Vosburgh joined the PSO. It may have been Co-principal try Chuck Lirette or guest principal from Munich Phil (who also played on that tour) playing the Mahler. Yes, it was Bill on horn. I have enjoyed knowing how much you enjoyed the PSO.

    PSO guy

  2. Thanks for the clarification. I’ll correct it!

    Nice to know that there’s a PSO guy out there keeping me in line…and I’m glad to know that my enjoyment hasn’t crossed into restraining order territory just yet!

  3. No restraining order at all. It is gratifying hearing that what you do is noticed and appreciated. For your info, Mahler 2 (taken from 2 performances in Musikverein) this past Nov should be released this spring. Mahler 6 was recorded spring of 2012 as was Strauss Don Juan, Till, and Death but no idea when those will be released. Sept of 2012, New World Symphony and Strauss Horn Con No 1 were recorded. Please don’t post this message as it is just for you. If you wish to email me with any questions, you can send it to , an email account I keep for things like this…

  4. I have to say hands down my favorite concert of all time. Our equipment arrived late with a concert starting time around 9:15. What happened afterwards was magic. Maazel was an animal in pushing the band to its limits. In returned we pushed back and gave a concert of a lifetime. An experience I will never forget. Now 24 years later, I still say its the best the PSO has ever sounded!

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