MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 416, 75:52 [avail. in several formats at pristineclassical.com] *****:

There are any number of Mahler devotees who will claim Ukrainian conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) as the greatest of the composer’s acolytes who retained his authenticity of style.  While confronting Mahler in all of his neuroses and grand passions, Horenstein possessed a natural capacity for emotional and architectural balance, so essential to Mahler’s intrinsic Viennese tradition. Andrew Rose, much to the delight of an entire Mahler community, restores a live broadcast performance – long since considered lost – of the Fifth Symphony from Edinburgh’s Ulster Hall (31 August 1961) that combines the epic sense of mortality of the score with some of the most tender expressiveness we will hear in the midst of such dramatic turmoil.

The Fifth Symphony (1901-02) itself demonstrates Mahler’s principle of “progressive tonality,” moving from a Funeral March to a jubilant sense of triumph in D Major. In the course this monumental score, divided into three parts, Mahler juxtaposes the most extreme emotions and musical forms:  learned counterpoint and simple country laendler, vociferous anger and grotesque fantasies, and grateful love and appreciation of Nature and human affection. If martial energy and resentment dominate the first two movements, a blissful or triumphant note emerges from the chorale motifs later in the score, even anticipated, in the stormy second movement, when pantheistic and visionary elements in the brass interrupt the dreadful impetus of the music. In a letter to his wife, Alma, Mahler expressed his own reaction to the originally-scored brass turbulence: “Heavens, what is the public to make of this chaos in which new worlds are forever being engendered, only to crumble into ruin the next moment? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent, and flashing breakers?”

The brightly lit, expansive Scherzo in sonata form – the crux of the emotional arch of this blazing, convulsive music – opens with four unison horns, whilst one breaks away to play an ostinato within a highly charged, rustic polyphony. Horenstein invokes huge sweeping gestures, mountain ranges and deep gorges. The construction of the Scherzo pays homage to Schumann and his penchant for two trio sections. Suddenly, the lilting, second trio section intervenes, an eccentric waltz that becomes more gaudy as the Berlin brass counter with martial accents. Whether this amalgam of sound approaches a kind of Pandemonium in Heaven can only be surmised, but one of the tunes that has passed in movement one belongs to the fateful Kindertotenlieder, which Horenstein premiered on record in 1927 with Rehkemper.  “In the midst of life we are in death.” The splendid string pizzicati with winds and horn will mesmerize auditors of this majestic performance. At over 800 bars of music and a playing time of nineteen minutes, the epic movement testifies to an emotional stamina and athleticism that exalts composer and performer.

The idea of a tainted Heaven extends to the haunted F Major Adagietto movement ,whose contours follow the Rueckert song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, a lament that expresses the sentiment, “I am alone in my heaven, in my love, in my song.” Reducing the scoring to strings and harp, Mahler could hardly have produced a stronger contrast in texture, and Horenstein breathes an erotic life into the familiar score. The sighing motions, marked seelenvoll (with soulfulness), embrace a world’s awaiting redemption. That the music passes through allusions to Wagner’s Tristan seems tragically appropriate. Sounding an A, the horn segues us to the 2/2  Rondo  in D Major, also “learnedly” manipulated in sonata-form. Horenstein imposes a grueling but exalted tension on all developments. We clearly hear echoes from the Wunderhorn cycle, Lob des hohen Verstandes, “In Praise of the Higher Understanding,” signified by its incorporation into a fugue. Mahler speeds up the Adagietto theme while modulating into B Major, whose very tentative nature invites higher expectations, namely the G Major clarity of the Fourth Symphony. Mahler will eventually employ the funereal music from the stormy second movement as a triumphant chorale, a spiritual victory over the forces of annihilation. The hard-won jubilation achieved here has thoroughly infected an hysterical audience, whose cheers quite overwhelm the announcers’ staid voices in English, German, and French, respectively.

Kudos to Andrew Rose, Aaron Z. Snyder, and Mischa Horenstein for a reissue of special merit.

—Gary Lemco

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