Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Altenberglieder (Five Songs on picture-postcard texts by Peter Altenberg) Op 4 (1912)
1. Seele, wie bist du schöner [3:10]
2. Sahst du nach dem Gewitterregen den Wald? [1:19]
3. Über die Grenzen des Alls [1:43]
4. Nichts ist gekommen [1:29]
5. Hier ist Friede [4:11]
Írma Kolássi, mezzo-soprano
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française / Jascha Horenstein
Live broadcast, 4 May 1953 Mono
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 (1899, arr. 1917, rev. 1943) [29:07]
Chamber Symphony No. 1 (Kammersymphonie) Op. 9b (1906, arr. 1922, rev. 1935) [26:12]
Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio (SWDR) / Jascha Horenstein
Stereo studio recordings, October 1957
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC445 [67:11]
For admirers of Jascha Horenstein, amongst whom I’d certainly include myself, this is an issue of great importance because it contains three items which, to the best of my knowledge
have not been previously released on CD in performances conducted by him. There’s additional significance attached to the Berg performance, which I’ll come to in a minute
The conductor’s cousin, Misha Horenstein has made these recordings available to Pristine. He writes in an accompanying essay that Jascha Horenstein championed Schoenberg and his pupils throughout his career. Furthermore, in 1918 Horenstein became a member of Schoenberg’s influential Society for Private Musical Performances. He got to know Schoenberg well and he developed a close friendship with Berg. The two Schoenberg pieces included here were, Misha tells us, in his repertoire throughout his career. He doesn’t say when Horenstein first conducted the Kammersymphonie but the earliest performance of Verklärte Nacht that can be traced was one he gave with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1927.
As I mentioned, the Berg recording is very significant. The songs were composed by Berg in 1912 and a performance was mounted in Vienna in 1913. However, I understand that a section of the audience took against them so vociferously that only the first two songs could be performed; the rest of the performance was abandoned. It was not until January 1953 that Horenstein was able to give the first complete performance of the songs, in Rome. He led several further performances before giving the French premiere in May and it’s that performance that’s preserved here. So far as is known this is the earliest recording of the work that has survived.
The soloist is the Greek mezzo, Írma Kolássi (1918-2012). I don’t recall hearing her sing before but I was impressed by this performance. She has a full, sensuous timbre which suits the music and she sings with great expressiveness. I think I’m right in saying that the third song, Über die Grenzen des Alls has a top C near the end. Whether or not this note is optional I don’t know – I haven’t got a score – but Miss Kolássi doesn’t sing it; as she’s a mezzo this is wise. Even though the recording is over sixty years old you can tell that the orchestral contribution is very precise: it’s also atmospheric – try the introduction to Hier ist Friede. I don’t think there can be any doubt that Horenstein had prepared the performance very carefully. Írma Kolássi is very clearly heard – but not in an overbearing way.
Horenstein plays Verklärte Nacht in Schoenberg’s arrangement for string orchestra. The performance is very intense; Horenstein gets the orchestra to play with great commitment and no little refinement. As I listened I kept being reminded of how fine an interpreter of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony Horenstein was. The intensity is sustained throughout and Horenstein really takes the listener with him: certainly the performance held my attention throughout. However, the closing section (from about 24:08) brings a welcome relaxation and these pages, especially from 26:29, are tender. Here, yet again, I was put in mind of Mahler’s Ninth. The recording, which was made for Vox, is in stereo. The violins sound rather shrill at times, especially in loud passages, and the bass is a bit murky. The climaxes can sound rather congested. However, the recording still gives a very good representation of the performance, which is a fine one.
Schoenberg originally wrote his Kammersymphonie for 15 instruments. In 1922 he re-scored it for orchestra and he revised the orchestral version in 1935, cataloguing it as Op 9b. This is what Horenstein recorded for Vox in 1957. The work is in one movement divided into five sections and it’s a pity that the sections aren’t separately tracked. The vigorous, spiky music is delivered with drive and determination here though the slower section, which begins just before 15:00 is expressively rendered. The performance seems to be a good one; however I readily admit this is music that I can respect but certainly not love so my ability to judge a performance is limited. The recording was described as stereo by Vox but Andrew Rose admits in a note that the original stereo wasn’t terribly convincing and that transferring the recording has been a challenge. It seems to me that he’s done as good a job as anyone has a right to expect. Notwithstanding his best efforts, though, the sound is a bit fierce and the orchestra is closely recorded.
I doubt I’ll return to the symphony but that’s entirely a matter of personal taste and others will no doubt find what I’m missing in the music and will respond to it much more positively. The recordings of Verklärte Nacht and the Berg songs I am sure I will enjoy again in the future. Overall this is another important addition to Jascha Horenstein’s representation on CD and a further demonstration of what a fine, musical conductor he was.