MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major – London Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – HDTT DVD-R

by | Aug 6, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major – London Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – HDTT CD-R  HDCD 128 or 96K/24 DVD-R HDDVD128,  56:02 ****:

Taken from Unicorn label 4-track tape (1969), this esteemed performance of Mahler’s First Symphony by Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) enjoyed a notable shelf-life as a Nonesuch LP. Mahler marked the score of the first movement to be played “very restrained throughout,” in spite of its effluvia of songs from the composer’s own pen. Horenstein maintains a wonderful sense of balance among strings, flute, harp, brass, and battery (including triangle), all the while insisting on the physical and psychological presence of the inverted pedal in the high strings that provides an inexorable tension on the proceedings. The left speaker assumes the burden of the harp’s transition–in tandem with oboe, flute, and muted trumpets–back to the wistful recapitulation after the soulful intervention of Nature’s charms. The London players bring a decidedly optimistic vitality to this movement–great trumpet and tympani work–even in the midst of its melancholy song, which in its Wayfarer’s version, tells us that Nature revels over and above the persona’s tragic love affair. 

The Scherzo enjoys strong accents and passing glissandi, trumpet punctuations and string stretti, spacious, rolling cadences from the tympani. The ostinati in the basses suddenly swell into a huge convulsion of sound, a monumental swirl of colors, only to collapse in to the ingenuously Viennese laendler of the trio. Pantheism and klezmer seem to merge in one bucolic gesture, with an occasional thundering roll of the tympani. Horns and swaggering strings return us to the syncopated da capo. Horenstein reaches deeper down into the strings and horns’ capacity to eddy into the stratosphere. The strains of Bruder Martin (Frere Jacque) take us into a child’s world after The Fall, the harp hard on the heels of the woodwinds and strings. The secondary motif could not be more Kurt Weill than Horenstein colors, an Austrian beer garden with aspirations of Purgatory. Once again the harp and strings take us under the Linden Tree of forgetfulness, whether it be bliss or a dirge from a fool’s paradise. Horenstein intensifies the militant, sarcastic elements of the da capo, the vulgarities of life as solemnly profound as the ecstasies.

The extensive opening of the Stuermisch bewegt–Energisch movement is one protracted, hysterical spasm, martial and tormented at once.  When the initial impulse collapses, the silences suffer intrusions from trumpet and tympani; then, a reawakening occurs from strings and harp in purest song. Melody and temporal stasis fuse as Horenstein holds the hymn to Nature in the cloudless palm of his hand. A soft drum roll announces the end of the period, and Horenstein ushers in his war trumpets over the shimmering strings for a personal apocalypse in the form of the development section that culminates in a Roman triumph. The scores of Brahms and the philosophy of Nietzsche teach us that all things return, and so Mahler plays out the fateful confrontations again, flute and harp and strings in beatific, mystical agony. A tender series of canonic entries moves us to the yearning heartbeats of the peroration, cymbals and trumpets and shrieking woodwinds, shadows of Schumann’s Spring Symphony transfigured into a maerchen of epic proportions, awash in glory. This performance, so artfully restored by HDTT, is musically and spiritually an exalted poem between composer and conductor.

[If you have 96K DVD-R playback capability, by all means ask for the DVD version; it’s the same price. You get true hi-res reproduction. Comparison with The Bernstein version on a Columbia stereo-only SACD brought out the much more transparent sonics and increased high end on the HDTT disc.  While not quite as natural sonics (and of course no surround) as the SF Symphony/Tilson Thomas SACD version, Horenstein offers even more white-hot passion…Ed.]

— Gary Lemco

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