C0282. JASCHA HORENSTEIN: The Art of Horenstein, incl. Brahms, Strauss, Hindemith & Mahler. (England) 5-Scribendum 511, recorded 1966-72. Final Sealed Copy! - 5060028045112
“Scribendum is a British company specializing in good quality transfers of important recordings from the past, mainly in multi-disc sets built around the artist rather than a composer. This 5-disc set gathers together some of Jascha Horenstein’s finest recordings, several of which have been hard to find in recent years. All were originally released on Unicorn or its successor,Unicorn-Kanchana, and some were subsequently issued on other labels (Nonesuch and Chandos, for example). Scribendum provides good documentation of original sources and recording dates but no program notes. In an attempt to reproduce the original Unicorn LP cover art, Scribendum has taken an odd approach. Each disc has its own jacket, with the covers containing those reproductions. But the couplings on the CD don’t match up neatly to the original pairings. For example,in Scribendum’s set Mahler’s First Symphony is coupled with Strauss’ TOD UND VERKLÄRUNG, while on Unicorn the Strauss was coupled with the Hindemith MATHIS DER MALER. So, on one side of the jacket is the Mahler cover art and on the other, the Strauss and Hindemith, even though the Hindemith is not on this disc. It appears on CD 5 coupled with the last three movements of the Mahler Sixth. To compound the confusion, on the reverse side of the jacket for CD 5 we again get the Hindemith and Strauss cover art, even though only the Hindemith is on the disc. Evidently this was the only way Scribendum could have reproduced the always interesting Unicorn covers, and I am glad to have them. The 19-minute interview between Alan Blyth and Horenstein, mostly about twentieth-century music, is very engaging. The set is available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com) for $49.90. I have seen used copies of the Horenstein Mahler Third alone listed on Amazon for more than that.
The sound quality of these reissues is excellent, at least equal to the original LPs and earlier CD versions, and in some cases better. The Stockholm Mahler Sixth sounds more open and cleaner here than in the Music & Arts or Unicorn CD editions. The Mahler Third also sounds a bit fuller and richer than the Nonesuch transfer, but the original recording was shy on the bass end, and there is little that Scribendum could do about that.
This is a collection of mostly very good or even extraordinary performances, and one hopes that it might serve to introduce Horenstein to a new generation of collectors. The only recording I would say is not essential listening is the Mahler Sixth, because the Stockholm Philharmonic and Horenstein both seem to lose concentration as it goes on, and there is a much more effective Bournemouth Symphony/Horenstein performance on BBC Legends (BBCL 4191-2). However, even this account has a good deal to offer, particularly in the first movement before the orchestra tires, and the rest of the set is superb.
[Regarding] the Brahms Second…the performance finds the usual Horenstein balance of contrasting elements, none of them emphasized to excess. The score’s lyrical and dramatic aspects are both put forward, with effectively expressive rubato in the first movement. Horenstein is not as lean and taut as Szell, as smooth as Karajan or as powerfully monumental as Furtwängler, but he brings elements of all those interpretive choices together in a unified, persuasive account.
Irreplaceable are Mahler’s First and Third Symphonies. I have listed both of these recordings in FANFARE’s Classical Hall of Fame, and hearing them again in such fine transfers demonstrates the reasons for that. Horenstein was one of the early important Mahler conductors, and what distinguishes his performances is their unique blend of all the contrasting elements in the composer’s sound world. Horenstein manages to convey the music’s power, vulgarity, anguish, sarcasm, and deep beauty, emphasizing none over another but somehow weaving each into a unified whole. (He leads the Sixth that way too, despite the orchestra’s deficiencies.) The First and Third were studio recordings with the fine London Symphony, and they are classics. Horenstein is a master of Mahler’s contrasts. For example, the crashing whiplash strokes at the opening of the finale of the First Symphony is followed by the most achingly intimate and beautiful statement of the lyrical second theme that follows. The subtle use of portamento, most notably in the Adagio finale of the Third, is uniquely poignant. These two recordings are among the finest Mahler performances on disc and are essential to any serious collection. On their own they justify purchasing this set for anyone lacking earlier versions. You can find more detailed reviews of both in the FANFARE online Archive.
The Strauss and Hindemith are 1972 studio recordings for Unicorn, reissued on CD in the early 1990s on Chandos. Scribendum’s sound is as good as the Chandos versions, which is to say very good. Both are excellent performances, reviewed positively in 1992 in FANFARE 16: 2 by James North. DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION is a taut, intense reading. At 21:55, it is the second shortest of the 31 recordings in my collection; interestingly, the very shortest, by half a minute, is conducted by Strauss himself (21:24). Horenstein’s live reading with the French Radio Orchestra is significantly longer (25:02). Because of flexible and supple phrasing, a warm string tone, and a real sense of the long line, the present account never sounds rushed. At the same time, Horenstein avoids the melodramatic feeling that this piece can have in heavier hands. He knows how to build strong, powerful climactic moments and employs a complete range of dynamics. Very few conductors make as many distinctions in middle-range dynamics as he does, and that keeps the music moving forward.
MATHIS DER MALER is at the opposite end of the tempo spectrum. At 29:06 it is the slowest account in my collection, surprisingly even beating out Celibidache! What distinguishes this recording from most others is the extraordinary care Horenstein takes with orchestral color and balances. There is a richer, darker string tone here than usual and in general a warmer orchestral timbre. At the same time, the music’s brilliance and taut rhythmic structure are never underplayed. Beauty, power, and mysticism are rendered with equal importance in what for me is one of the most rewarding performances on disc.
This is an extremely important and valuable set of recordings. It inspires me to explore the rest of the Scribendum’s reissue catalogue. Very strongly recommended.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Most of the great conductors who have been deified on ‘historic’ recordings acquired Olympian status during their lifetimes, then amplified their fame beyond the grave. Jascha Horenstein is another case entirely, a conductor of marginal renown who has generated tremendous cult interest in the [many] years since his death. We finally have an adequate record of one of the most vital, idiosyncratic interpreters of the 20th century.
Among other things, Horenstein was the greatest Mahler conductor of his generation, perhaps of any generation. His authority in Mahler was challenged only by Leonard Bernstein, and in some ways Horenstein brought his listeners closer to the heart of Mahler's music, rather than the heart of one conductor's experience of it. Performances of Mahler, and of Bruckner, have grown increasingly monumental and monotone in recent years; it is deeply satisfying to go back to Horenstein's flexible, full-voiced, superbly balanced readings, in which the texture is richly varied yet all of a piece. A missionary for these composers decades before they came into fashion, Horenstein never lost his youthful ardor and awe. Whatever score lay before him, Horenstein struck straight to its' heart, often sacrificing a polished veneer to draw out his central vision. He was the wandering magician among great conductors, able to summon a great performance under the unlikeliest of circumstances.
He was born of Jewish parents in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1898 and moved to Vienna with his family while in his teens. He studied violin with Adolf Busch, theory with Joseph Marx and composition with Franz Schreker in Berlin. He made his conducting début in 1923 with the encouragement of Wilhelm Furtwängler, whom he idolized. His ascent was swift: engagements with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra from 1925 to 1928, the Düsseldorf Opera from 1929 to 1933. He made his particular taste known at once: the major work on his début program was, daringly, the Mahler First, and soon after, he made the first complete recording of a Bruckner symphony (the Seventh, with the Berlin Philharmonic). In 1933 Horenstein fled Nazi Germany for Paris, and his career fell into a disarray from which it never quite recovered. For more than a decade, he wandered from orchestra to orchestra, country to country, visiting the Soviet Union, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America and Mexico. In the early 40s he tried to establish himself in the United States, conducting several concerts with the New York Philharmonic, but made little headway. Big-name orchestras did not warm to his painstaking interpretive demands and often failed to invite him back.
His reputation finally began to gain luster in the 50s. He led the Paris premiere of Berg's WOZZECK in 1950 and worked frequently with French orchestras, beginning a series of recordings for Vox. The Horenstein cult crystallized when Ernest Fleischmann, as manager of the London Symphony, engaged him as a regular guest conductor. His momentous performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in 1959 is often cited as the flash point for the Mahler revival in England. By the 60s, he was finally recording in stereo with major London orchestras. Unicorn issued splendid studio recordings of Mahler's First and Third Symphonies along with important disks of Nielsen, Hindemith and Strauss. Horenstein's Mahler and Bruckner performances were so legendary that young English listeners spent the night outside the concert hall in sleeping bags waiting to hear him. But the grueling tours took their toll, and he died suddenly on 2 April, 1973, shortly after a historic engagement conducting PARSIFAL at Covent Garden.
Horenstein held in balance two qualities that do not usually appear together: a clear grasp of linear musical structure and a ferocious concentration on individual interpretive moments. On his best days, he found an ideal middle way between the outward energy of Toscanini and the inner expression of Furtwängler. A lifelong student of Indian philosophy, he comprehended the naturalness and transcendence of music in a single breath. Horenstein was most famous for his electrifying effect in live performances, but he was also a canny presence in the recording studio, knowing how to draw the best results from meager resources…. The Mahler First has a furious energy unmatched by any recent rendition….the Mahler Third is superior to all readings before and after. Horenstein's Mahler is free of exaggeration; he never bloats tempos in the manner of Klemperer or Bernstein. He is not afraid to let certain passages play out in an ordinary narrative mode, or to shape climactic moments with an unexpected sensual restraint. Mahler's music, already vehemently expressive at every turn, does not need to have its underlinings underlined.
Why did this major musician not receive his due? Perhaps because he deliberately avoided the obvious path to posterity. He never sought a permanent appointment, and his temperament would have prevented it. The repertory that meant the most to him became fashionable only in his last years. The selflessness of his devotion to certain precious scores is rare among conductors, for whom the buttressing of the ego at all costs is usually paramount. Devotion shines through many of these recordings, and it colors the famous sentence the conductor uttered on his deathbed: ‘The saddest thing about leaving this earth is never to hear DAS LIED VON DER ERDE again’."
- Alex Ross, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 Oct., 1994