Composer(s): Gustav MAHLER
Conductor: Jascha HORENSTEIN
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra
Catalog #: UKCD2012
Format: CD (1 Disc)
Time: 56:51 min
SPARS Code: ADD
By Tony Duggan from www.musicweb-international.com:
Like Kubelik, Jascha Horenstein first made a recording of this work in Vienna in the mid-1950s and this is still available on Vox coupled with a Bruckner Ninth of the same vintage (CDX2 5508 purchase) and on Preiser (90669 purchase). Horenstein didn't have the benefit of the Vienna Philharmonic and though the Vienna Symphony play well and idiomatically it's their contribution which lets him down, especially in the last movement where Horenstein's demands stretch them too far.
The recording is also boxy and close-miked. Fortunately, Horenstein recorded the work again, this time with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1970 for Unicorn-Kanchana (UKCD2012) and this version supersedes his earlier one in almost every respect. The introduction is as clear and expectant, as with Kubelik, but there is a greater sense of space both in the pacing of the music, the playing of the orchestra and the more atmospheric recording. Horenstein shares also Kubelik's simplicity in the main theme but I like the way he builds in more mystery to the arrival of the soft horn announcement of, what will become, the clinching motive at the climax of the exposition. This is real concert hall "theatre" worthy of a Furtwangler. At the rip-roaring climax note too Horenstein's acute ear for the particular sound of the Mahler orchestra, for contrasts and for the special instrumentation. A slight slowing for dramatic effect is a surprise but such is Horenstein's long-term planning it doesn't obtrude. The Scherzo has more bucolic a swing to the dance and a nice trenchancy which contrasts beautifully with some perky clarinet contributions in the Trio. In the third movement funeral march Horenstein keeps up a slightly faster tempo than usual but, as so often with this conductor, his tempo choice is unerringly the right one for what he wants to say. He recognises, as does Kubelik, that this is a parody and should have the mood of fantasy too. His band interjections really seem to touch a nerve and in the quotation from the Gesellen song that forms the emotional core note the bassoon contribution, the kind of detail highlighting Horenstein was renowned for as it undermines the texture like a worm in the flower bed - very Mahlerian ! When the march returns Horenstein doesn't force the "oom-pah" rhythms of the band but they make their effect which, it is surprising to report, is not as usual as you might think. The benefits of the virtuoso LSO of that period are apparent in the opening onslaught of the fourth movement: "The cry of a deeply wounded heart". Nothing seems beyond this orchestra and their contribution lifts the passage to an almost cosmic level, accentuating the bravado of the young Mahler. Horenstein refuses to wear his heart on his sleeve in the lovely transition into the lyrical second subject, so the great theme emerges from out of exhaustion as a consolation, heart-easing rather than heart-wrenching. In the central section where the battle is resumed and the end signalled Horenstein, ever master of structure, holds something back for the coda and then with what potent nostalgia he paints the final look-back to the start of the symphony: horns calling from immense distances and also note the picking out of a violin harmonic. The end does not disappoint. In fact Horenstein even has a surprise in store. At the point in the score marked "Pesante-triumphal", where the horns should be standing up, Horenstein slows the tempo down in the kind of rhetorical gesture he was not usually known for. The effect is to lift the music again to another level and make no apologies for what always teeters on the edge of banality. In so doing he wins us over with his sheer audacity. This is a very special recording of the First Symphony that ought to be in every collection.
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