Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 8 (Jascha Horenstein)


Composer: Gustav Mahler

  • (01-05) Jascha Horenstein in Conversation with Alan Blyth
  • (06-13) Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major, Part I. Veni creator spiritus
  • (01-13) Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major, Part II. Closing scene from Goethe's Faust

Joyce Barker; Beryl Hatt; Agnes Giebel (soprano)
Kerstin Meyer; Helen Watts (contralto)
Kenneth Neate (tenor)
Alfred Orda (baritone)
Arnold Van Mill (bass)
BBC Chorus; BBC Choral Society
Goldsmiths Choral Union; Hampstead Choral Society; Emanuel School Boys' Choir; Orpington Junior Singers
London Symphony Orchestra
Jascha Horenstein, conductor

Date: 1959
Label: BBC Legends



"In early 1958 the BBC, in the shape of Robert Simpson then a senior BBC executive, decided they would mark the centenary of Gustav Mahler's birth by mounting a cycle of his symphonies in 1960. Bernard Keeffe, also working at the BBC, was asked by Simpson to be in charge of some of the broadcasts. Then, in late 1958, the BBC's Third Programme (forerunner of Radio 3) found itself under budget for the year ending March 1959 and knew if the excess wasn't spent it would find its budget for the following year cut. Consequently Simpson and Keeffe were asked to come up with a project for the first half of 1959 to mop up the cash. They decided a broadcast of the most expensive concert item in the repertory; Mahler's Eighth would fit the bill and act as curtain raiser to their Mahler cycle the following year.

Keeffe had just five months to put the enterprise together and knew he was a man with problems. Firstly, hardly anyone in London knew the work. The last performance had been in 1948 under Boult and that had only been the third ever in Britain. He also had to find a hall, choirs, soloists and orchestra. Most crucially he had to find a conductor who could not only conduct the work but also teach the Mahler style to performers who, in 1959, were largely unfamiliar with it. One name stood out - Jascha Horenstein. Keeffe knew Horenstein's work, and crucially his Mahler, from pioneering Vox recordings and was delighted when he secured his services at such short notice. He must, however, have been aware that not even Horenstein had conducted the work before.

This is the background to the remarkable concert performance of March 20th 1959 preserved on these CDs. By then the London Symphony Orchestra had been engaged, the best choirs in London (which Bernard Keeffe would train), the composer/conductor Berthold Goldschmidt as Horenstein's "first lieutenant" and a team of superb soloists. In the latter case Keeffe engaged a full team of stand-ins. There were two reasons for this. With the parts so unfamiliar, Keeffe knew if any of the soloists became ill it would be impossible to engage replacements. It also mopped up more money, as also had the involvement of the BBC engineers who decided to attempt their first stereo concert relay.

The Royal Albert Hall had been hired as the only venue in London worthy of the event but only a Friday was available. This meant the largely amateur choirs would not be able to take part in a full rehearsal there in the morning of the concert so that took place with everyone crammed into the concert hall of the Royal College of Music the previous night. The actual performance was therefore the first time the whole ensemble of 756 musicians and singers (including, in the enhanced 130-piece LSO, Hugh Maguire as Concert Master, Neville Marriner leading the second violins, James Galway on the piccolo, Barry Tuckwell leading the horns and Gervase de Peyer the clarinets) actually performed any of the work in the Royal Albert Hall all together."


"One of Horenstein's most striking fingerprints, even more so in pieces with long spans, is an almost miraculous ability to unerringly pick one overall tempo that suits the whole piece but which nevertheless allows the right degree of expression into those parts that ask for them. When a piece begins, and Part I of Mahler's Eighth is as good an example as any, you sense Horenstein has the whole span in his head even before it starts. It's this area of his art which, I believe, sometimes leads people to brand him dull or "earthbound". My reply is that it's appreciation of this area of his art that grows with time. He never gives you an easy way in to anything, but, like monuments built on the firmest foundations, the finished edifices last longer because they haven't given in to passing fashions. For me his less "impetuous" account of Part I creates a unique excitement and power because it's cumulative: built up and built up inexorably as the piece progresses, an inevitable tidal wave by the end that stays in the mind because it starts from the very depths and is only varied to extents that are within the tolerance of the whole. What Bernstein and others (Tennstedt, for example) also indulge in in this work (and which Horenstein doesn't because his philosophy doesn't allow it) is to read too much into Mahler's other markings, e.g. "don't hurry", "hold back" etc. The result is that the kind of cumulative forward projection over the long span that Horenstein offers, and which I believe offers greater dividends, is sacrificed to the thrill of the moment and so satisfies only for the moment. When Bernstein, for example, sees "espressivo" he takes it as a signal to pitch camp for the weekend, breaking the momentum he might have set up with his "impetuoso" allegros. It may knock you out on first hearing but, over time, I think it becomes irritating in addition to spoiling the sense of momentum. But Horenstein, with his modular tempo and minimal interventions, doesn't need to indulge in expressive tricks and therefore momentum, structure AND expression become organically integrated to an extraordinary degree. So close and so profound you cease to notice them: a true example of "art concealing art"."


"The eruption of cheering as soon as the work ends signifies a whole lot more than just the end of a concert. Here was an experience which I'm sure everyone present would not have missed living through and it's one which I earnestly advise ALL of you not to miss either. There were always excuses before - inferior recording quality, difficult to find - but not now. If you buy no other Mahler recording for the next year, please make sure it's this one. From now on, this is my own top recommendation for Mahler's Eighth."

-- Tony Duggan, MusicWeb International

More reviews: (very negative)

Tony Duggan's survey


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.


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.


FLAC, tracks
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