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Horenstein in Gothenburg - Volume 4
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No 35 in D major, K385 ‘Haffner’ [17:24]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 4 in G major [59:03]
Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. live 25 January, 1968, Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden.
Ambient stereo

In recent months I’ve been enjoying the first three volumes in Pristine Audio’s series of recordings of the four concerts which Jascha Horenstein gave with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in 1968 and 1969 (Vol 1 ~ Vol 2 ~ Vol 3). Here, now, is the final volume which preserves Horenstein’s first appearance with the orchestra.

We learn from Misha Horenstein’s note that the ‘Haffner’ symphony was the concert opener. It was a happy choice. Misha Horenstein describes his cousin’s performance of the ‘Haffner’ as “fleet-footed, sharply defined”. He was referring to the work as a whole, but I think it’s a particularly apt description of the way the first movement is delivered. Jascha Horenstein gets a very spirited and clear performance from the Gothenburgers. His conducting has just the energy that the music needs: it’s never over-driven, yet the performance is full of vitality. The repeat is not given, which is a bit of a shame; I would have liked to hear more. The Andante is very nicely paced and the orchestra responds very well to their conductor; there’s elegance from the strings and very nice woodwind contributions. The pacing is ideal, too, in the Menuetto and I thought the performance of the Trio was winning. The finale is crisp, dashing and stylish. In fact, stylish is a word you could use for the reading of the symphony as a whole. The relationship between conductor and orchestra was auspiciously launched.

The main interest, though, lies in the performance of Mahler’s Fourth symphony. In November 1970 Horenstein made a studio recording of this work with the LPO; Dame Margaret Price graced the proceedings in the finale. The recording was much admired by Tony Duggan in his 1997 survey of some recordings of the work (updated in 2006), though he pointed out that, despite the distinction of the performance and the positive reviews it received, EMI didn’t really promote the recording as strongly as they might have done. That remained the case, and I believe I’m right in saying that it’s long been unobtainable as a single disc, though you might still be able to acquire it as part of a large boxed set issued by EMI some years ago (review).

I share Tony Duggan’s admiration for Horenstein’s way with the symphony in the 1970 recording so it’s very good news indeed that Pristine have now made it possible for the conductor’s admirers to acquire a single-disc recording by the conductor. It would be fair to say that the sound on the EMI studio recording is superior to what I assume is a Swedish Radio recording. Furthermore, the LPO offers more polished playing than does the Gothenburg orchestra. However, Pristine’s sound is perfectly acceptable and the Gothenburg orchestra gives a very good account of itself. So, no one acquiring this performance will be short changed.

To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the 1970 EMI recording, so to some extent I approached this Gothenburg performance afresh. I had forgotten the degree to which Horenstein takes a direct view of the first movement. That’s not to say that his reading lacks charm or poetry, and he is fully respectful of the expressive tempo modifications that Mahler wrote into the score. That said, he emphasises structure – the tempo relationships are expertly managed – and he also ensures that the dark undercurrents in the music (for example after about 7:30) register with the listener. He also obtains excellent clarity of texture. This, then, is an unsentimental reading and I completely agree with Misha Horenstein’s judgement that his cousin’s interpretation “goes far beyond the facile view of the work as one of the “easy” Mahler symphonies”. I don’t know how collectively familiar the members of the Gothenburg Symphony were with this score before they began rehearsals with Horenstein but they play the music very well and the many tricky corners in the movement are negotiated safely.

The second movement is well pointed and Horenstein ensures that Mahler’s dark humour comes out. Overall, he takes the movement a bit more spaciously in the 1970 recording but I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the greater tautness he achieved in Gothenburg. One little detail that I liked very much was the way the series of upward glissandi in the double basses are made to tell in the closing bars; they’re audible in the LPO performance but not to quite the same degree. I don’t know if the prominence in Gothenburg was down to the engineers or the conductor but it’s a very Mahlerian detail and I relished it.

The first five minutes or so of the third movement are beautifully sustained in this performance. The Gothenburg strings deserve a bow for their maintenance of the line and their concentration. The performance as a whole is fractionally more spacious than was to be the case in the 1970 studio recording and nothing is lost by the greater sense of space; quite the reverse, in fact. The movement’s Heaven-opening climax (17:53) is suitably radiant, but what caught my ear even more is the warmth with which Horenstein and his orchestra invest the three or four minutes of music that lead up to the climax. The close of the movement is well done but I have to admit that it’s even more magically achieved, under studio conditions, in the LPO recording.

The finale benefits from Jennifer Vyvyan’s excellent singing. Wisely, she makes no attempt to sound child-like; rather she just concentrates on beautifully produced singing, as Margaret Price was to do in the 1970 traversal. The verses of the lied are really well done and in the orchestral interludes Horenstein gets incisive, pithy playing from the orchestra. The introduction to Miss Vyvyan’s final stanza (from 5:27) is raptly delivered and when Jennifer Vyvyan starts to sing (6:44) the Mahlerian spell is well and truly cast. By the shortest of heads, I prefer Margaret Price’s singing in the finale but no one hearing Jennifer Vyvyan will be disappointed in any way; I’m delighted that we have both of these fine sopranos on disc in this music. Applause followed the Mozart performance but, happily, no applause breaks the spell after the Mahler. I suspect that the Gothenburg audience was sufficiently well disciplined that they refrained from showing their appreciation immediately, enabling Andrew Rose to filter out any applause that there was on the original recording.

I’m delighted that Pristine have issued this recording. It’s an excellent complement to the 1970 recording and if you already have that version in your collection, I’d encourage you to acquire this one too. You’ll get another excellent interpretation by Jascha Horenstein, this time working with a different and equally accomplished soloist. And if the LPO offer rather more polished playing, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra do very well indeed for Horenstein and their performance has the electricity of live performance. The Mozart symphony performance is a significant bonus.

As ever, collectors are indebted to Misha Horenstein for a very useful booklet note and, crucially, for making these performances available from his personal archive. Andrew Rose has done a fine job in transferring them.

This is the last release in the four-volume series ‘Horenstein in Gothenburg’, all of which have been most rewarding. It’s also worth noting that Pristine offer all four volumes as a set at a slightly discounted price (PABX034). But perhaps that’s not quite the end, because recordings exist of other works given in these four concerts, including excerpts from Handel’s Rinaldo which Jennifer Vyvyan sang in the first half of this January 1968 concert. Misha Horenstein indicates in his note that these shorter works are to be issued in a separate release. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, if you share my view that Jascha Horenstein was one of the great Mahler conductors then you should certainly add this performance to your collection.

John Quinn

Previous review: David R Dunsmore

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