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Mahler sy9 PASC649

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 9 in D major [85:44]
Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No 5 in D minor, Op 47 [45:46]
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. Symphonia Studio, Vienna, Austria, 7-11 April 1952 (Mahler), 16-17 April 1952 (Shostakovich)
Remastered in ambient stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC649 [60:23 + 71:29]

Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) was among the outstanding conductors born in Kyiv who had brilliant musical careers in the West, such as Igor Markevitch, Nikolay Sokoloff, Nathan Rakhlin, Reinhold Glière and Viktoriya Zhadko. Horenstein’s family moved to Konigsberg in 1905 to escape pogroms. In Austria from 1911, he studied at the Academy of Music in Vienna: composition with Franz Schreker and music theory with Joseph Marx. He also studied violin with Adolf Busch. In 1920 he moved to Berlin, and was an understudy to Furtwängler, working with him on Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Horenstein made his professional debut in 1922 with Mahler’s First Symphony. In 1928, he was appointed conductor at Düsseldorf Opera House. His tenure was broken by the Nazi takeover in 1933. The United States became his sanctuary in 1940, and later he received US citizenship. He spent several years as a roving guest conductor in Europe, where he developed friendships with Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Busoni, Berg, Nielsen and Richard Strauss. He taught at the New School for Social Research in New York.

A keen interpreter of modern music, Horenstein conducted in 1929 the premiere of Berg’s Lyric Suite in a string arrangement, and Berg’s Wozzeck in Paris in 1950. He also directed Busoni’s Doktor Faust in New York in 1964. Throughout his career, he conducted Carl Nielsen’s symphonies and recorded his opera Saul and David. He conducted Robert Simpson’s Third Symphony. His readings of music by Hindemith, Panufnik and Richard Strauss are among the finest recordings of their works. In 1959, he conducted Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the BBC Proms. That event opened up Mahler to a wider audience, and started his acceptance in the UK. At the time of his death in London in 1973, Horenstein was planning to set down Mahler’s Sixth and Schubert's Eighth. His late most memorable activities include Wagner’s Parsifal at Covent Garden in March 1973.

I discovered Horenstein’s recordings some thirty years ago: his Mahler Ninth on an old set of two LPs from Vox. His interpretations led me to collect all his LPs of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, and of the New Vienna School – Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. These LPs amaze with Horenstein’s magnificent conducting, his truthfulness to the score and the composer’s intentions. Horenstein’s championship of Mahler and Bruckner were historically important: from the late 1920s, he pioneered these then neglected composers on record. Polydor recorded his Bruckner Seventh with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1928. He worked with unusual record labels and unfamiliar orchestras, but even today his recordings stand high in the discography of these composers.

Interestingly, Horenstein took his interpretations of Mahler symphonies to the Soviet Union. In April 1932, he conducted Mahler’s Fifth in Moscow at a concert attended by Dmitry Shostakovich. By a quirk of fate, Shostakovich shared the night train from Moscow to Leningrad with Horenstein and spent the journey chatting about Mahler. Shostakovich was able in his home city to take in Horenstein conducting Mahler’s Ninth with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The experience deeply affected the young Russian composer: consider his own symphonies, notably the Fourth and Fifth written in the thirties. Horenstein recalled later: “There is no doubt that we influenced Shostakovich through our performances of Mahler.”

This recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony clearly shows that Horenstein has fully grasped the tragic and dramatic essence of the Russian’s music. A tautly drawn reading grips one from the first bars through to the cataclysmic finale, and his direction is enthralling and dramatically inspiring, notably with a great emotionally draining Adagio. There is no histrionic climax as some conductors practice. Horenstein keeps strictly to the tempo indications of Shostakovich’s score. As I understand, this was only the second recording after Mravinsky’s premiere recording in 1938 with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, available on Melodiya. Some harsh tones have been smoothed over, but otherwise this is an excellent remastering by Andrew Rose, in fine sound. The exciting treatment of this symphony makes one regret that there are no other settings of Shostakovich symphonies by Horenstein. The recording on Vox quickly fell from view as more versions appeared in the fifties and sixties. I heard many performances of the Fifth, and it seems to me Horenstein’s reading is very similar to Karel Ančerl’s 1961 recording for Supraphon, although the Czech strings are richer in their tone than the Viennese strings.

If the Shostakovich Fifth under Horenstein was quickly neglected, the Mahler Ninth has been a constant in the catalogues for seventy years. Gramophone wrote that this recording is “a text-book example of how to conduct this symphony”. It is truly a fantastic interpretation, overwhelming even if one is acquainted with Abbado’s and Bernstein’s magnificent interpretations in more sophisticated digital recordings. It is quite remarkable that – as one is drawn into the dramatic narrative of the opening Andante comodo – one forgets the age of this recording. An impressive standard was attained by outstanding virtuoso players probably unfamiliar with this score, but it seems clear that the conductor has convinced the Viennese musicians to give their best. The Rondo-burlesque is exciting and dramatic in its switch between irony and parody. The immense final movement is intensely moving in its farewell to the world.

Alongside other Horenstein releases by Pristine Audio, the present set deserve the widest recognition, especially in the fine remastering that Andrew Rose has given them.

Gregor Tassie

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