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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 1 in D major
Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Jascha Horenstein
rec. Vienna, 1953
XR remastering Ambient Stereo

This has already been glowingly reviewed recently by my MWI colleague Rob McKenzie, who made it his Record of the Month and went to some pains to examine and justify Horenstein’s choices regarding tempi and careful, detailed phrasing. I can understand both his admiration for the conductor’s slightly deliberate and even self-conscious phrasing but can also appreciate that some find his manner a tad cautious and precious. I have long loved this symphony and admire the sense of affection conferred upon it by Horenstein’s meticulous phrasing but recognise that with that approach he sacrifices some of the mystery and excitement a more propulsive and animated treatment can generate. For example, when the distant horns intone their hunting chorus at 11’09” they creep in almost shyly, but their entrance can be done much more vigorously, and the subsequent very gradual accelerando is so gentle and bucolic that the whole section becomes sleepy and bucolic, like a nap on a warm summer afternoon. However, when the horns return to sound a climactic paean at 14’59”, the contrast between their two high-profile contributions is marked and the slow build-up to that second intervention really pays off; Horenstein knows what he’s doing, structurally.

The Lšndler peasants’ dance of the second movement is similarly weighty and measured, with some surprising accelerandi and rallentandi. The advantages of Pristine’s remastering into Ambient Stereo are especially noticeable in the way instrumental detail contributes to the ambience Mahler wanted; there is no lack of charm or atmosphere and the superb playing of the VSO is enhanced by the warmth and depth of the new acoustic. I do find the third movement to be a shade too lugubrious but that enhances the grotesquerie of the music and is hardly incongruous. Again, there are lovely individual touches, such as the peculiarly plangent quality of the viola, then flute, solos half way through; Horenstein achieves a kind of mesmeric stasis. There is certainly no lack of intensity in the shrieking despair of the opening to the finale, then balm is applied via the concerted string section lovingly played by an orchestra that could be mistaken for their more illustrious Viennese counterparts, the odd horn blip notwithstanding. The climax of the movement is again measured but powerful; a fitting conclusion to a conception which is all of a piece.

I have a dozen or more recordings of this wonderful symphony and obviously some are considerably more, and in some cases, much more striking, modern sound but the restoration of this one and its highly personal execution qualify it for inclusion on the shelves – or the hard drive - of any Mahler enthusiast.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Rob W McKenzie (Recording of the Month)

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