Horenstein in Gothenburg, Volume 2 = MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 613 75:15 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The administration at the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden asked Jascha Horenstein in the 1968-69 season to engage the orchestra in repertory particularly challenging to the ensemble’s added personnel in the brass section. The present live concert (16 October 1969), the fourth and concluding appearance of the series, included Liszt’s symphonic poem Mazeppa and the Mahler Fifth. Annotator Mischa Horenstein informs us that the Liszt – later to be issued – proves as gripping as the Mahler here offered.
We already possess readings of the Mahler Fifth from Horenstein from London and Berlin, so comparisons, while inevitable, do little to focus on the singular power of this reading in Sweden. The orchestra had not confronted the score for over twenty years, and it becomes apparent that in spite of an occasional miscue or imprecise entry, the interpretation carries great weight. The opening Trauermarsch impresses us with its direct potency of expression, a clear break from the lyrical, Wunderhorn sequence of symphonies that had occupied Mahler’s earlier efforts. The trumpet parts project a cruel, incisive affect, close to the “barbaric Mahler” of the Berlin document. Horenstein imbues the trio sections with a palpable sense of spiritual relief, a consolation for the terrors of existence.
The ensuing second movement, a veritable and “vehement” mortal storm, throws us mercilessly into the maelstrom, with the transition into D Major’s serving as a forecast of the eventual resolution of the Symphony as a whole. For want of a better term, I call Horenstein’s evocation of the martial motif “Brucknerian” in its chorale-like, veiled breadth. Nonetheless, the demonic elements remain pure Mahler, with a rough, rustic counterpoint to pay homage to Bach while inflaming his learned style with a coarse, contentious energy that still manages a sense of personal triumph in a vague allusion to Wagner’s Rhinemaidens.
The Scherzo movement stands alone as Part II of this epic work, the fulcrum of a vast arch form. Viennese waltz and Austrian laendler impulses vie for a questionable supremacy in this grotesque mélange of polyphonic dance energies, likely to be construed as a mock-totentanz. The brass work emerges in sharp focus, pitted against swirling, truncated gestures in strings and fellow horn players. A ruminative sense of consolation sets in, a kind of oasis of hope. The gauzy sheen Horenstein elicits from his Gothenburg strings, horn, and winds testifies to a truly alert ear for orchestral detail. The eccentric waltz begins anew, assisted by a peremptory thump from the tympani, insistent battery effects, including the cymbals and triangle. The tension lifts us well into a rare mountainous, bucolic space, far from the world’s sea of troubles, despite its savage, shadowy commotion in the coda.
The ever-famous Adagietto in F Major – ostensibly a love song for Alma Mahler – extends the spiritual idyll in transparently passionate tones of strings and harp, wherein the Swedish audience holds its collective breath for ten minutes. The natural, breathed phraseology of this realization will bear many repeated hearings. The bucolic element introduces the Rondo-Finale, often cited as Mahler’s last symphonic expression of joy, insofar as it borrows heavily from the Adagietto, the chorale in the Scherzo, and moments from his G Major Symphony.
The Mahler swagger, the confident, martial lyricism, advance with a marked and steady rhythmic pulse to an assertion – in bold D Major chords – of personal triumph, here in a document significant to the Horenstein recorded canon.
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