Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 4 (Jascha Horenstein)


Information

Composer: Gustav Mahler
  1. Symphony No. 4 in G major: I. Heiter, bedächtig - Nicht eilen
  2. Symphony No. 4 in G major: II. In gemächlicher Bewegung
  3. Symphony No. 4 in G major: III. Ruhevoll
  4. Symphony No. 4 in G major: IV. Sehr behaglich

Margaret Price, soprano
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Jascha Horenstein, conductor

Date: 1970
Label: EMI


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Review

Following a concert performance in October 1970 Jascha Horenstein went into the studio with the London Philharmonic to record Mahler’s Fourth Symphony as one of the first recordings for the then new Classics For Pleasure bargain label produced by John Boyden. The result was musically deeply satisfying though the sound on the original LP left much to be desired. This led to a poor one-star review being enshrined in the very next Penguin Guide and that must surely have contributed to killing the release on the shelves so it was never considered among the recommended versions for this work. In 1983 an LP reissue at last appeared with the sound quality vastly improved by Mike Clements and Simon Foster at Abbey Road and this revealed what a great performance this was. But that release wasn’t in the catalogue long and with compact discs around the corner, as well as the demise of Classics for Pleasure, the recording passed from sight again. Then in the 1990s three CD issues appeared based on that 1983 analogue remaster. Two were from EMI in France and Japan (which meant UK and US collectors were largely left out) and an issue on the Chief label owned by Horenstein admirer Donald Clarke who had obtained rights to the tape. By the nature of such a small enterprise this too failed to make much of a splash until the Internet came to its rescue recently, but at least it kept the recording alive. Now, with the welcome reappearance of the Classics For Pleasure label and renewed interest in the work of Horenstein via the Vox and BBC Legends labels, this earliest of CFP’s recordings is back again in a fourth remastering of that 1983 tape. I think it significant that Classics For Pleasure chose this to be among their first tranche of reissues.

Let’s deal with the performance first. Horenstein's opening movement starts out a degree more distanced emotionally than say Kubelik's on DG or Kletzki’s on EMI to name just two leading recommendations as example. Less distinctive, then, but I think just as aware of the work's special tone and colour as any. In sum, Horenstein’s interpretation is more "through-thought" and symphonic than some preferring a slightly tighter rein on proceedings. Not a performance in the Mengelberg tradition, therefore, where every bar seems subject to manipulation, but Horenstein was a very different kind of conductor even though he admired the Dutchman. Having said that, this is still Horenstein a degree more unbuttoned than we are perhaps used to him showing what anyone who has ever heard his recordings of Viennese Waltzes knows that he can charm and beguile with the best of them. Interestingly, at the concert performance preceding this recording, Horenstein also programmed waltzes by the Strauss Family and played them in the second half of the concert after the symphony that he programmed in the first. Listen to the way he gets his cellos to slide if you want more convincing. Then in the Development a slight hesitancy pays off in introducing a degree of trepidation. As if, master of the developing argument that he was, Horenstein makes us aware that the one true crisis in this work is casting a long shadow back. By such light touches does this the lightest of Mahler’s Symphonies become shaped and his slower tempo is judged to near perfection allowing for the ghosts to peek out from the filigree with real drama and the climax itself to be grand and imposing.

So the first movement under Horenstein is remarkable for its structural integrity, its breadth, but also for a balance of charm, delicacy and a gentle feeling of menace. Again in the second movement he is that bit more emotionally distanced from the music that some but this approach is not to be discounted here either. By keeping a degree of distance Horenstein seems to accentuate the dream-like quality of the music all the more. Clarinets do chuckle wonderfully and there is also a trace of elegy and nostalgia in the Trios. I also love the way the music seems to be fading into the distance as the movement draws to a close, as if we are walking away from the scene. As you would expect by now, Horenstein hardly intervenes in the phrasing of the slow movement. If he does it's the lightest of hands on the rudder again. Characteristically, he chooses at the outset a tempo that suits the music’s contours to let it speak for itself, a cool beauty that refreshes. However, such simplicity of utterance is also strength of utterance, for what we have is more towards the repose Mahler is surely asking for. This is a more cerebral, intellectual approach that needs time and repeated hearings to make its effect but those passages of greater drama, of pain and yearning grow from this sustained opening and gain from the comparison. After this, Margaret Price is a very creamy-toned soprano who pouts a little too much for my liking but she is still very beguiling and her contribution rounds off a performance I really cannot recommend to you too highly.

As I said earlier, all CD issues of this recording, including the present one, are based on that 1983 analogue remastering that appeared on a Classics For Pleasure LP reissue (41 4461-1) and which superseded the sound heard on the very first issue. Listening to that second LP in comparison with this new CD clearly shows that little, if anything, more needed to be done to the sound and that it is just enhanced by the lack of LP surface noise. My LP copy is still spotless but it was good to be reminded of the gains of CD that we now take for granted. The recorded sound is sharp and detailed with the woodwind particularly well caught. The hyper critical will point to a lack of richness in the sound and a limited stereo spread, especially when compared with more recent versions. However, I have heard more recent versions where Mahler’s happiest score is not served as well as this in terms of being able to hear so much detail of the score.

What we have here is that rarity in the Horenstein discography: an official studio recording of a Mahler symphony in stereo, so let us celebrate that, especially when musically it is of such a high calibre. I haven’t been able to compare the sound on this new issue with either the EMI France or EMI Japan CD releases, but I have been able to compare it with the Chief CD release some of you may have and there seems hardly any difference. Perhaps a marginal gain in sound level for the new release can be discerned, but that seems about all. So if you already have the Chief CD there seems no need to buy this new one. Though at the low price you may well be tempted to do so anyway, just in case of accident. However, I suspect most of you will not have the Chief release - or either of the two earlier EMI CD releases for that matter - so this welcome reissue from Classics For Pleasure should be snapped up now whilst it is with us.

This is a leading recommendation for this symphony, now widely available in good sound at last.

-- Tony DugganMusicWeb International

More reviews:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mahler-Symphony-4-Gustav/dp/B00005O3Y2
https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Symphony-No-4-G/dp/B00005O3Y2

Tonny Duggan survey of  recordings of Mahler's 4th
http://www.musicweb-international.com/Mahler/Mahler4.htm

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Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Mahler

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Jascha Horenstein (6 May [O.S. 24 April] 1898 – 2 April 1973) was an American conductor. He studied with Joseph Marx and Franz Schreker, and also worked as an assistant to Wilhelm Furtwängler. Forced as a Jew to flee the Nazis, he moved to the United States in 1940, and eventually became an American citizen. Horenstein is particularly remembered as a champion of modern music and as a Mahler conductor, although his repertory as shown by discographies was quite wide. Horenstein conducted the works of Bruckner and Mahler throughout his career, and he also displayed ongoing interest in Carl Nielsen, whom he knew personally.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jascha_Horenstein

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