MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – Jascha Horenstein/LSO – Pristine Audio 

by | Jul 15, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor – Barry Tuckwell, French horn solo/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 567, 76:55 [] *****:

Through the tireless efforts of Mischa Horenstein, Pristine brings us a rare Mahler document, the debut of the London Symphony Orchestra’s work with Mahler’s 1901-02 Fifth Symphony, given with Jascha Horenstein 30 October 1960.  Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, famous for its opening trumpet fanfare, quotes a motif found in the decisively more “natural” and “programmatic” Fourth Symphony’s first movement; but here, the potent outburst heralds for Mahler “a new path,” purely instrumental, albeit rich with personal, even “medical,” overtones that indicate that fate and mortality will inform the Mahler ethos. This monumental work sports five movements set in three parts, in which the Scherzo provides a fulcrum between huge periods of emotional variability. Mahler in November 1901 had met Alma Schindler, the passionate would-be musician and veteran adventuress, whose affair with Alexandre von Zemlinsky, her composition teacher, had recently ended.  When she and Mahler met, instantaneous attraction compelled them to marry: legend has it that the famous Adagietto fourth movement means to serve as a timeless love-letter to Alma,  a wonderfully mounted, ecstatic serenade for strings and harp whose passion, resolve, and resignation point to all the vicissitudes of love. Yet, given the music’s close connection to the last of the Rueckert-lieder, “I am to the World lost, forgotten,” the music bears a sense of spiritual desolation. In the Rondo-Finale, the melody of the Adagietto assumes a more frivolous or impish character.

Portrait Gustav Mahler by Moritz Nähr

Gustav Mahler,
by Moritz Nähr

Horenstein takes the first movement Trauermarsch at a subdued, deliberate pace, aware that the tragic fanfare will appear later in the score, a semi-tone higher. Mahler expressed in a letter that this music meant “to express all the suffering I have been compelled to endure at the hands of life.” Horenstein does not indulge in musical means for self-pity and “romantic” indulgence.  His lines remain clean, taut, and intensely feverish, when required.  The lack of any specific program or “call to Nature,” however, does not deny the music’s close affinity to the first of the Kindertotenlieder and “The Drummer Boy” from the cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with their respective takes on human mortality.  The trio section of the Funeral March erupts with great vehemence, dizzy with grief, only to return to the grim procession. Only near the end does a new motif occur, based on a rising minor ninth, that extends the sense of soul-searching and yearning for transcendence, the most common trope in all Mahler. The succeeding Storm movement jars us as much with its subdued despair as do its sudden rages. Some sense of affirmation will arise in the trumpets and trombones, in the form of a chorale. But, typical of the cynicism in this first section of the symphony, the optimism suffers a quick collapse.

Mahler fretted over his Scherzo movement, which he saw would remain problematic for future interpretation. He meant to depict the vigorous, confident energies of a man in the prime of life, having overcome menacing adversity.  The combination of laendler and waltz tempos, interrupted by episodes of nostalgia, both provoke and frustrate easy emotional access.  The LSO brass – and especially Barry Tuckwell’s horn – call to us across wide, bucolic vistas, invoking Mahler’s earlier, pantheistic sense of wonder. Even the alternate plucked and arco strings of the LSO turn the music into a kind of Mediterranean serenade. Perhaps, as Horenstein’s delicately muscular and transparent textures suggest, the paradox of human vitality defines the core of this intricate, meandering maze of emotions.

After the haunted Adagietto, the horn sounds a single tone to return us to the diurnal reality of storms and stresses. The initial wonders of Nature transform into a radiant dance-song, the kind of emotion Richard Strauss wants for his Nietzsche-meditation on Zarathustra.  Mahler’s “progressive modulation” moves us from C-sharp minor to a triumphant D Major, more in keeping with the Beethoven Eroica Symphony.  Mahler referred to this “primeval, foaming, raging sea of sound, these dancing stars, these iridescent and flashing breakers,” almost an invocation of Walt Whitman or Dylan Thomas. The brass chorale from the Storm second movement returns, but any sense of personal frustration and suffering feels subsumed to a greater sense of wholeness and fervent confidence. How does the Rueckert song end?  “I live alone in my heaven, in my loving, in my song.” So, too, does Horenstein’s trim and exalted version, here mounted by Pristine in a way that – as Mischa Horenstein explains in his notes – Everest Records should have instituted in the first place.

—Gary Lemco



Related Reviews
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
Logo Pure Pleasure