is famous for having been scolded by
Dr Konrad Adenauer in 1926. Szenkár
had premiered Bartók's Miraculous
Mandarin, and the music caused a furore.
Dr Adenauer, then the local Mayor, said
"Szenkár, that piece of
filth must go!" before banning
further performances. And the composer
himself, oblivious to the near riot
around him, grumbled "Eugen, on
page 34, I specified mezzo-forte for
the clarinet! I could not hear it!".
Jascha Horenstein, was forced out of
Europe by the Nazis – to Russia in 1934,
to South America in 1938. Hence, he
did not capture the limelight, even
though he premiered many works, notably
those of Bartók. This recording
is a chance to hear what he was like
as conductor. Recordings, however, give
only a distorted image of how music
was received. Szenkár’s Mahler
Third may only be the second recording,
made a mere six months after Scherchen’s,
but the symphony was well known in music
circles. It was a particular favourite
of Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Mengelberg.
What a great loss to posterity neither
recorded it! Moreover, Mahler’s music
did not go into an eclipse after his
death. Various different performing
traditions evolved with different conductors.
Mengelberg started the seminal Mahler
festivals in 1920, Schuricht in Wiesbaden
in 1923, and Szenkár played most
of the symphonies in 1926. This recording,
therefore, is a snapshot of how one
conductor felt about this symphony from
the perspective of one who’d known the
work well, decades before the big surge
in Mahler’s popularity after the 1960s.
When Richard Strauss
conducted this symphony, the marches
made him think of socialist workers,
marching in solidarity. Alma Mahler
also said that her husband walked alongside
a worker’s procession – he was known
to have voted socialist. Szenkár’s
marches capture that proletarian feel
– real marcher's brass, these, played
by musicians who had heard a lot of
marches in their time, both socialist
and national socialist. There is a real
grimness to their playing, which even
goes beyond Mahler's exhortation "roh
dreinblasen" (raw and crudely blown)
. One of the horns manages a bizarre,
almost jazz-like flavouring. Szenkár
keeps a solid, steady rhythm which underpins
the different sections in the Erste
Abteilung. There are few dramatic contrasts.
Even the massed horn fanfare towards
the end doesn't shake the sense of relentless
marching. This is a very "military"
reading, good at capturing "Das
Gesindel" (the rabble) with its
resonant bass drums and lack of dramatic
contrast, even in the famous eight horn
fanfare. It doesn't, however, quite
capture the sense of Pan calling the
world into exuberant, creative anarchy
which was central to Mahler's conception.
The second and third
movements are played relatively straightforwardly.
Szenkar doesn't make much of the savage
irony in the Ablösung sections
which do so much to give the symphony
its characteristic black humour. However,
the posthorn interlude is bittersweet
and nostalgic, heard as if from a distance
both in space and time. The finale is
played through quickly, hardly evoking
the horror that Mahler perceived below
the surface. Given the gravitas of Szenkár's
approach, much might be expected of
the critical "O Mensch !".
Indeed, the Diana Eustrati, the Greek
alto, makes this perhaps the most successful
part of this performance. She sings
with dignity, infusing real sincerity
into " Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit".
The boy's choir is also excellent –
bursting with joyous confidence and
exhilaration, a counterpoint to the
dionysian march in the first movement.
Eustrati's voice contrasts well against
the background of bimm-bamms.
Even the orchestra, for once, joins
in the exuberance. The final movement
draws together the reverence of "O
Mensch" and the optimism of the
choir, in a shimmering contemplation
of bliss. Szenkár's steadiness
helps weave a texture where all the
elements balance to create a seamless
feeling of light.
Mahler's Third might
logically be paired with Beethoven's
Sixth, but here we make do with Szenkár's
recorded legacy and get Beethoven's
Fifth. Although this was made in 1928,
the recording is surprisingly unclouded
by the usual blips and clicks, except
in the second part, although at times
it sounds like the recording was made
in a box. The performance is also full
of life and vigour, hurtling along at
a heady pace. Szenkár again seems
to have an affinity for large brass,
and they give him wonderful, full-bodied
playing. If this was how well Szenkár
was conducting in his prime, one regrets
all the more the years of exile that
cut him off from the mainstream of western
European and North American music. Had
he but emigrated westwards instead of
to Stalinist Russia!
Charm exudes from Szenkár's
rendition of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.
It's a confident, sunny reading, where
the conductor gives full rein to the
lush sweeps of the strings. The first
two movements flow lyrically, with great
spirit. This is live, and feels live.
The beauty of the adagio isn't disturbed
by much sense of unease even though
the emotional temperature has been toned
down. Mahler told Bruno Walter that
this movement was like the half smile
on the statue of an ancient saint, remembering
a past life sublimated by spiritual
distance. To reach this point, the saint
sacrificed life. Szenkár creates
a confident crescendo at the end, and
the harp and strings soar upwards and
outwards. Christiane Sorell is definitely
an enthusiastic singer and her voice
is very clearly recorded, somewhat to
the detriment of the orchestra. It's
a pleasure to hear a boisterous, earthy
singer in the final movement. Sorell
certainly sings as if she really enjoys
the company in Heaven and the gluttony.
She is so uplifting that you can forgive
the many moments when the tessitura
is too high and her voice wobbles with
strain. In this version, the singer
is the gutsy human counterpart to the
saint of the Ruhevoll, so any hint of
imperfection can be taken as stemming
from other parts of Mahler's work which
contrast the sublime and the proletarian.
Sometimes it's nice to listen to something
that can raise a smile of happiness.