Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 7 in E major (1883) [58:58]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. 1928. Venue and precise date unspecified

This recording of Brucknerís Seventh was the first electrical recording of a complete symphony by the composer. As Mark Obert-Thorn says in his accompanying note, itís pretty remarkable that Grammophon/Polydor should have entrusted such an enterprise to Jascha Horenstein, who was then just thirty years old. The label had access to several more eminent and established conductors, including Furtwšngler, but Horenstein repaid the trust placed in him with a fine performance.

The first movement is taken at quite a brisk tempo and there were a few occasions when I felt Horenstein pressed ahead just a bit too much. However, he conveys the geniality and lyricism of this movement very well. The adagio is deeply felt and sonorous. Horenstein may have been relatively youthful but already he knew how to pace slow music and how to unfold convincingly a long Brucknerian line. There are some pitching issues, probably stemming from the recording rather than from the players, but these are minor when set aside the grandeur and nobility of Horensteinís performance, which unfolds very naturally. Incidentally, he includes the cymbal clash at the main climax.

The scherzo is taken at a very lively pace, Horenstein imparting considerable energy and rhythmic vitality to the music. The trio, by contrast, is taken at quite a relaxed tempo. To be honest, though itís very warmly phrased I think itís a bit too leisurely, especially in contrast to the main scherzo material. The recording of the scherzo was split over two sessions and the join between the scherzo and the trio would have been the obvious place for a session break. Itís possible that this might explain the slightly excessive contrast between the two elements of the movement but Iím more inclined to think that this is an accurate reflection of Horensteinís overall interpretation. The finale is quite fleet of foot but, generally speaking, not to the extent that I felt Horenstein was too hasty. The grand passages in the movement are given their due weight but overall itís an urgent, energetic reading. I could wish that Horenstein had taken the final peroration at a broader temp but his no-nonsense pacing is of a piece with the urgency of his conception of the whole movement.

The recording was made over three separate sessions, we learn, with the first movement recorded in one session, the Adagio and part of the scherzo at the second session and the remainder of the symphony at the third session. Mark Obert-Thorn has corrected the pitch discrepancies between the three sessions in making his transfer and Horensteinís skill on the podium ensures that, with the one reservation about the third movement that Iíve noted above, the symphony emerges as a unified entity.

But I mean no disrespect to Horenstein when I say that the truly remarkable thing about this CD is the quality of the recorded sound. Iíve heard several discs that show the excellence of the results that German tonmeisters were able to achieve in the 1930s but I canít recall hearing such an early example of comparable excellence. Not only is a copious amount of detail reported but the sound is full and largely free from the shrillness in the treble that so often afflicted recordings from this period. The bass is full without being tubby and the orchestra is balanced with quite remarkable naturalness. The climaxes reproduce with remarkably little distortion. If all this were not enough, the transfer has been achieved skilfully and the amount of background hiss is minimal.

In summary, very few allowances need to be made for the sound. In a blind hearing Iíd suggest that few listeners would guess that the recording was made eighty-two years ago. From the recordings that have been issued by BBC Legends of the Fifth Symphony (review) and of the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies (review) we know that Horenstein was a notable exponent of Bruckner in the autumn of his career. This fine performance shows that he was just as adept in Bruckner at a relatively youthful age. In this excellent new transfer this performance takes a place of note in the Bruckner discography.

John Quinn

A fine Bruckner performance in an excellent transfer.