Mahler has become quite a regular feature of Gianandrea Noseda’s concerts as the London Symphony Orchestra’s chief guest conductor, and the main work in the latest of them was the enigmatic Seventh, which perhaps presents the biggest interpretative challenge of all 10 of Mahler’s symphonies.
It was a challenge in which Noseda never seemed totally convincing. Though he was at pains to define the symphony’s shape, playing the three central movements without breaks between them so that the sense of a triptych within a triptych was emphasised, neither of the massive outer movements quite hung together on their own terms. After a majestic opening with outstanding low brass, the closely clipped rhythms that propelled the main allegro of the first movement made it seem rather lightweight, while the regularly problematic finale seemed to lurch from one idea to the next. The overly bright orchestral sound never helped, either; technically, the playing was always first rate but its brashness sometimes uncomfortably suggested a throwback to the LSO’s concerts a few years ago under Valery Gergiev.
Schoenberg and his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern hugely admired Mahler 7, and it was Berg’s Violin Concerto that preceded the symphony here. Janine Jansen was the soloist, making her final appearance as the subject of the LSO’s 2016/17 Artist Portrait series. Her performance was typically understated, full of quietly eloquent solo playing and never parading its sense of loss and elegy too obviously, so that the lilt Noseda gave to the Carinthian folk tune that Berg quotes in the second part of the first movement seemed almost louche.