Top positive review
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One of the very best performances
on 28 May 2015
Jascha Horenstein, 1899-1973, recorded Mahler's First Symphony twice, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1953 [heard in much improved mono sound in the Preiser reissue of 2005] and again in 1969, at the Barking Assembly Hall, with the London Symphony Orchestra. The work is one of the composer’s most approachable.
The strengths of Horenstein’s performance are his overall conception of the symphony, and his attention to balance and dynamics. Of course, it helps that he is supported by orchestral musicians playing at the top of their form – particularly pointed in the third movement and the stormy final movement. The orchestra’s obvious rapport with their conductor is palpable. Individual details, however ravishing, are never allowed to inhibit the creation of a completely convincing whole. The sound is very good although not up to the standard of a later, apparently illegal, transfer.
Horenstein thoughtful approach and sensitivity to the music is evident in the distant fanfares (clarinets followed by offstage trumpets), the woodwinds’ cuckooing and the Wayfarer song of the opening movement. The overall conception is intensely lyrical, clearly evident in the Ländler-like exultant Scherzo, without this lessening the impact of the third movement’s funeral march that is imbued with a sense of irony. Here and elsewhere the percussion playing is first-rate. The song from the Wayfarer cycle, that Deryck Cooke in a 1969 text links to the death of the composer’s favourite younger brother, achieves an emotional depth that I have not heard bettered.
The devastating opening of the final movement which the composer wanted to sound ‘like a bolt of lighting ripping from a black cloud’ is linked to the following musical ideas through a triumphant arc in which the brass and percussion are to the fore. The conclusion makes the heart race but Horenstein remains completely in control and sensitive to both clarity and shaping, and avoids any hint of becoming bombastic or too rushed.
This 1988 reissue contains Deryck Cooke’s original text on the work together with a brief biography and photograph of the conductor.
Whilst this performance is not quite as impressive as the same conductor’s Mahler 3 it is very difficult to choose between it and Kubelik’s recording, but why should I? It is an immensely powerful and intelligent performance and one of the most enjoyable.