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Horenstein in Gothenburg, Vol 4
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No 35 in D, K385 Haffner (1782) [17:24]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 4 in G major (1899-1900) [59:03]
Jennifer Vyvyan, (soprano)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. 25 January 1968, in concert, Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden

This is the fourth and final release in Pristine’s “Horenstein in Gothenburg” line. Previous issues included Schubert 9 and Mozart in Vol 1 (review), Mahler 5 in Vol 2 (review), which I look forward to reviewing and Bach and Bruckner 6 in Vol 3 (review). These have all been reviewed favourably by John Quinn.

I sampled the present Volume 4 on Pristine’s streaming site and was most impressed and am now delighted to have the opportunity to hear the CD and appreciate its qualities to the full. Unlike some previous Mahler releases on Pristine, Symphony No 4 was recorded in the studio by Horenstein with the London Philharmonic in 1970. It was an early release on Classics for Pleasure but, as the late Tony Duggan explains in his review there were problems with the original LP. It wasn’t until CD release that its considerable virtues became apparent. Tony Duggan described it as a “leading recommendation for this symphony, now widely available in good sound at last.” It’s also available for those who, like me have the box of the “The Complete Works - 150th Anniversary Edition” (EMI/Warner); that’s 19 hours of music on 16 CDs. In his review Simon Thompson calls it “as recommendable a version as you are likely to find. Throughout [Horenstein] captures just the right mix of the innocent and the sinister, most notably in the jokey but devilish scherzo which leaps along with a sneer on its face”. In the final movement “A Child’s vision of heaven” the very fine Welsh soprano Dame Margaret Price sounds very mature with no hint of childishness although her beautiful voice is in accord with Horenstein and the LPO.

The Mahler is preceded by a highly acceptable Mozart “Haffner Symphony” which I found gripping from start to finish. As in his slightly later Overture to “Idomeneo” from Volume 1, Horenstein delivers what John Quinn describes as “good and thoroughly musical Mozart performances [that] should never go out of fashion and this is one such performance”. As in other works over the four volumes, the Gothenburg orchestra puts in very committed execution. It’s further evidence, if it was required after all the live releases to compensate for the paucity of good studio recordings, that Horenstein had a far wider range of works that were under his “skin”. I hope that his cousin, Mischa who’s done splendid work on making recordings available, can find more Mozart. I’d love to hear it as well as the Covent Garden “Fidelio” when he substituted on occasion for Klemperer. The Andante of the Symphony is full of classical good manners together with great feeling. There are no repeats but that’s understandable if there was a third work on the programme. For those in doubt, I’d direct you to the fast Presto, full of Mozartian humour. Few people will buy this disc for the Mozart but it’s a charming full-boned bonus. Pristine have left applause at the end of the Symphony which is fine by me, appropriately it’s omitted from the Mahler.

My initial impression of the first movement was how organic the performance was, as Horenstein lead an orchestra with which he clearly had an affinity, in music that they presumably didn’t know very well. As the brief but concise notes state, Horenstein had been deliberately requested to select works that would challenge the orchestra. The Fifth, on Volume 2, hadn’t been played in Gothenburg since the 1940s. I guess it was similar here. The detail throughout the first movement, where Mahler takes us on a slightly bizarre journey is quite remarkable. The tape was mono originally but the ambient stereo re-master works very well. It gives the orchestral sound a real sense of depth. I just love the rough-hewn cowbells. The movement concludes with a real flourish which must have impressed an audience, most of whom would, I assume, have only known the work, through imported records by Walter, Kletzki, Bernstein and Solti; the last two certainly polar opposites in approach to Horenstein here and in the studio. His steadier pace allows the full force of the music to come through without added histrionics.

The second movement generally works well and the-horn player definitely earns his crust. There are some dodgy notes from the strings but this is part and parcel of a live performance and the spirit of adventure throughout far outweighs any snags. Those plucked strings are really magical with the chortling brass. The recording is remarkable as re-mastered by Andrew Rose and whilst clearly slightly dated, I found it totally comfortable. I must quote Mischa, to whom we are indebted for the recording. He aptly states that “The Gothenburg Orchestra, alert and alive, plays with passion and dedication, clearly in sync with the conductor if not always with each other … [they] manage to negotiate some of Horenstein’s tricky demands with great aplomb, including some beautifully sustained pianissimi and vividly characterized transition sections.” What is really remarkable is that this was the first concert that the orchestra gave with Horenstein.

The slow movement is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt in the romantic symphony literature. I find it impossible to listen to it and not be deeply moved. If Mahler had written nothing else then he would deserve recognition for this profound statement of love. True, in this version, the intonation at times is imperfect but the intensity is spellbinding and must have held the audience in a trance. Being January, there were inevitable coughs. I also should mention that the disc stuck occasionally, despite wiping, which I’m sure was a one-off. The Pristine Classical site has the whole of this movement to sample and I can’t recommend enough that you should do this. I will be very surprised if that doesn’t tempt a purchase. One now wants to go back (or forward in time) to the LPO record to see if the intensity is there too. I noticed portamenti (slurring of notes in the strings, common until WW2) which would have been out of date in 1968 but seem appropriate to a work composed at the cusp of the century. I’m sorry that my first encounter with this work was with Franz Welser-Möst and the London Philharmonic (CfP) where this movement runs to 25 minutes.

Back to Horenstein, and the slightly surprising soloist in the finale, in that she never recorded it commercially, is Jennifer Vyvyan. She died of bronchial complications at the young age of 49 in 1974. As well as Mahler Fourths, she also performed and recorded Britten’s “Les Illuminations” with Horenstein in England, and the War Requiem in Belgrade in 1972. I first heard her in Sir Adrian Boult’s mono “Messiah” (Eloquence) (review by Paul Corfield Godfrey). She had a very wide repertoire including Britten and Purcell. What a lovely voice she had and how well she combines with the orchestra and conductor. She could have been slightly more forceful at times and unfortunately the microphones, which pick up the rumbustious percussion and timpani, don’t always have her as much in the spotlight as one might desire. Nevertheless these factors don’t really detract from the beauty of this vision. The work ends in a magical suspension and one is grateful to have no intruding applause.

This is a valuable addition to the Horenstein discography and certainly should be placed alongside the studio recording. Many thanks to Mischa Horenstein and Andrew Rose.

David R Dunsmore



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