Item# C0134
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C0134. JASCHA HORENSTEIN Cond. Vienna S.O.: 'Titan' Symphony #1 in D (Mahler); Symphony #9 in d (Original Version) (Bruckner). 2-Vox CDX2-5508. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 04716355082


“These are classic interpretations that have long stood the test of time and still retain an authenticity and freshness after almost 50 years of their recording. Horenstein is one of the giants in both these composers, and these are the occasions in which he was at his very best.

Mahler's First was recorded with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1953. The dashing swagger that informs the First movement may also be found in Barbirolli's almost contemporaneous recording with the Hallé in 1957, but the VSO are slightly more involved. I also enjoyed the marvellous Finale that is taken at a leisurely pace which informs the music with largesse and grandeur. Although the recording is not top class, the whole recording is really a legend.

Vox has reissued all the extensive notes and documentation that were part of the original LPs. For this alone, they are to be commended.”

- Gerald Fenech, Classical.Net

“Jascha Horenstein lacked the long-term association with a big-name orchestra and record label that has elevated lesser musicians. But in the last few years his studio and live performances, with orchestras superior and inferior, in sound good and terrible, have proliferated on CD in astonishing numbers. 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.

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 debut 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 Dusseldorf Opera from 1929 to 1933. He made his particular taste known at once: the major work on his debut 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 40's 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. 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.

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. 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.

Vox, meanwhile, has re-released a sizable quantity of early Horenstein on CD in the last year or two. The standout is a two-disk set of the Mahler First and the Bruckner Ninth, both with the Vienna Symphony (Vox 5508); the orchestra is not to be confused with the Vienna Philharmonic (not for a moment), but it plays its heart out under Horenstein's inspiring direction. The Mahler First has a furious energy unmatched by any recent rendition, and the Bruckner Ninth shows an exceptionally fluid, free-form approach.

The live recordings, though a very mixed bunch, produce several revelations. Music and Arts, a label based in Berkeley, Calif., has led the way with eight Horenstein disks, predominantly Mahler. A 1969 performance of the Seventh Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra (CD-727) probes the darkest corners of Mahler's Expressionist masterwork without losing sight of the larger plan. And in a glorious DAS LIED VON DER ERDE with the BBC Northern Symphony (CD-728), Horenstein rouses a minor group to heights that have been matched only by Bruno Walter and Klemperer in their classic readings. John Mitchinson and Alfreda Hodgson are not the greatest soloists ever to attempt this piece, but they do moving work.

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