MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – London Symphony Orchestra /Rudolf Schwarz – Everest

by | Aug 25, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – London Symphony Orchestra /Rudolf Schwarz – Everest EVERCD011 [harkitrecords.com  – not distributed in the US]; 69:26 *****:

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wrote the Fifth Symphony during the summers of 1901 and 1902 at his lakeside cottage in Maiernigg, Austria. After its first performance in 1904 he said, “Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death.”

From the opening trumpet fanfares, the funeral march under Schwarz retains a feeling of nobility and dignity and bears repeated listening due to its musical rather than histrionic performance; vibrato is apparent but not ladled out like schlagobers. The return of the opening themes have increased acerbity and Schwarz’s taking of the long view pays handsome dividends in his interpretation. The second movement demonstrates the vehemence and agitation as fully as the score allows, and the determination and detail in the writing shines through at the chosen tempi.

The second part of the symphony consists of the third movement, the scherzo. This substantial movement brings out the delicacy in the orchestra’s playing, and balances perfectly with Schwarz’s rendition of the opening movement. The third part of the symphony opens with the famous Adagietto for strings and harp, here taken at the sort of tempo Mahler himself had in mind as shown also by Bruno Walter, and avoids inappropriate glutinous textures. The fifth and final movement in rondo form ends with a powerful interpretation of the chorale to which Schwarz’s performance has been building up from the off.

Bert Whyte recorded the LSO and Schwarz from 10 to 15 November 1958 in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London. As David Patmore points out in his timely article “Rudolf Schwarz, the musician’s musician” in the Summer 2008 edition of Classic Record Collector, “it is high time the persistent rumour that Jascha Horenstein had been engaged for this recording, be laid to rest.”  Horenstein did indeed rehearse and perform this work with the LSO in Leeds shortly before the recording, and there were plans which came to nought for Vox to make a recording, and over the years there has been much speculation about how much of Horenstein there is in Schwarz’s recording.

It seems Schwarz gave a highly regarded performance of the Fifth later on 18 March 1959 with the BBC SO: “Mr Schwarz had communicated to the players his own burning view of the symphony (The Times); Mr Schwarz and the BBC SO “deserved all the cheers that rang round the Festival Hall that night” (Daily Express); “I shout for Schwarz”, the headline for Charles Reid’s article in the News Chronicle; on the other hand, The Observer’s somewhat sarcastic review is a disparaging voice. Horenstein also performed the Fifth some time later for a broadcast by the BBC; crucially, according to Stan Ruttenberg that Horenstein performance is “miles apart from Schwarz’s reading” in this Everest recording, though it is but a run-through recording prior to the broadcast itself. On the other hand, Misha Horenstein feels that recording sits uncomfortably with  Horenstein’s own live performances as heard in the 1960s.

Rudolf Schwarz (1905-1994) was born in Vienna and studied with Hans Gál, another long-lived musician whose life and music are well worth an investigation. For various reasons he failed to leave his post in Karlsruhe when the Nazis came to power, staying in Germany to conduct for the Jewish cultural League. As late as August 1939 his friend Joseph Keilberth begged him to leave but Schwarz was convinced there would be no war, and that things would not get worse. He was soon arrested by the Gestapo, and though released in October 1940, he was rearrested in September 1941. After intercessions from Zitla Furtwängler (WF’s wife), he was again released in early 1943, only to be rearrested some time later, eventaully liberated from Auschwitz in 1945. He was badly injured, a shoulder blade broken, and this affected his conducting technique thereafter. After a spell in Bournemouth, he was appointed in 1957 Principal Conductor of the BBC SO where he enjoyed mixed success, some highly acclaimed concerts though others fell in battle to the onslaughts of some critics, notably that of The Times. Schwarz had great influence on musical life in Britain due to his interest in and support for musicians, the most notable being Sir Simon Rattle.

In addition to the information about Rudolf Schwarz (Summer 2008), the history of Everest (Spring and Summer 2007) is in two articles by David Patmore, to whom I am most grateful for so many details, in Classic Record Collector. I am also grateful to Misha Horenstein for adding other details for this review.

Everest’s recording remains first-rate by today’s standards, the balance of trumpets and trombones occassionally the only query, and this remains an excellent example of the art of Bert Whyte. The LSO play magnificently for the most part – the music must have been fairly unfamiliar at that stage – and if there are one or two slightly untidy moments, these are made up for by the spontaneous vibrant performance.

Unfortunately three copies of this new issue showed the same fault of extraneous popping noises in the last movement, played on three machines and examined on computer, and Everest’s proof-reading failed to correct the spelling of the conductor’s name. If a perfect copy can be sourced I have no hesitation in recommending most highly this very fine performance.

– – Peter Joelson

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