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Even Homer nods
on 21 April 2016
I am generally a big fan of Horenstein's Mahler and have reviewed his Third, Fourth, Ninth and "Das Lied von der Erde" glowingly, but just as I found his live Seventh to be undistinguished, I was less than bowled over by this First. It starts well,with a suitably atmospheric "faery lands forlorn" ambiance, the trumpets aptly distanced, the horns ripely mellow and a sense of brooding mystery hanging in the air, but never really goes anywhere, especially compared with more dynamic and positive readings such as those from Solti and the recent superb release from Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
This is a very gentle, pastoral reading of the symphony, more sombre and reflective than I like it to be; the introduction is slow and dreamy and the movement overall is some three minutes slower than competitive versions from Kubelik and Barbirolli. Progress is deliberate and menacing but never very inspiring. The Scherzo is rustic and heavy without conjuring up the humour Barbirolli finds at a similar tempo, the third movement is gloomy and lacking in bite. The attack of the opening of the finale begins to compensate for that but the generally rather distant, ploggy, soft-edged sound diminishes its impact and the playing soon defaults into the same leisurely style which characterises the three preceding movements, culminating in a ponderous climax. As with the first movement, its overall timing is some two or three minutes longer than other,preferred recordings - and a full five minutes longer than Boult's breathless and thrilling account.
Ijust don't feel that for all his experience and expertise, Horenstein has found the spirit or measure of this music; it is all too marmoreal and reverential, lacking the bite,snap and irony which pervades the work.