ROSSINI: Semiramide Overture; MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 “Tragic”; NIELSEN: Symphony No. 5; Jascha Horenstein with Deryck Cooke – BBC Symphony Orchestra (Rossini)/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Mahler)/ New Philharmonia/Horenstein – BBC Legends

by | Jan 26, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ROSSINI: Semiramide Overture; MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor “Tragic”; NIELSEN: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50; Bonus Track: Jascha Horenstein in conversation with Deryck Cooke – BBC Symphony Orchestra (Rossini)/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (Mahler)/ New Philharmonia Orchestra (Nielsen)/ Jascha Horenstein – BBC Legends BBCL 4191-2 65:17, 74:00 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

A cult of devotees remains faithful to conductor Jascha Horenstein (1899-1973), especially in the music of Bruckner, Mahler, and Nielsen. The BBC has gathered music of diverse character from three distinct concerts, the Semiramide Overture from London, 6 November 1957; the Mahler from Bournemouth, 10 January 1959; and the Nielsen from the BBC Studios, London, 26 February 1971, with the interview from around the same date. Certainly catholic in his musical tastes. Horenstein is likely misconstrued as a Mahler specialist, especially as he performed only the First, Third, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth with any regularity, and some of these late in his career. Horenstein led the Eighth for the first time in London 1959, the Seventh in 1964. His aggressive style managed a compromise between Klemperer’s monumentality and Walter’s sweetness, with an individually keen ear for the wonderful rhythms and colors found in Mahler. For this rendition of the Sixth, Horenstein opts to have the Scherzo follow hard upon the Allegro energico, placing the Andante moderato squarely as a moment of cosmic repose after two stressful confrontations with destiny.

We open with a rousing Semiramide, a concert overture version of a bloody opera whose sinewy crescendos the BBC Studio Orchestra obviously relishes. The forward thrust of the music never degenerates into empty, bravura rhetoric. But even Rossini at his most intense proves merely an appetizer for the voluminous repast that Mahler’s A Minor Symphony provides. At the time, the Bournemouth Symphony had Constantin Silvestri at its helm; and though a brilliant colorist himself, Silvestri did not program Mahler. Of the four occasions that Horenstein led this work, this Bournemouth appearance was his last such effort. Under Horenstein, the orchestra renders huge, sweeping arches of sound, alternately militant and yearning, with bits of irony (a la snare drum and string sforzati) liberally peppered throughout. The big A Minor theme (homage to Alma Mahler) in the first movement has a fierce, heartfelt resolve, a love that wants to cross all time. Savagely Viennese and naively bucolic is this music – surely a contradiction in terms. Nice work on a tightrope between French horn and solo violin, answered by cowbells and tremolando strings and tympani. The cumulative urgency of the performance spills headlong into the Scherzo, a willful combination of frenzy and pastoral irony. Listen to the col legno effects in the strings while the woodwinds usher in the drunken, swirling march tempo. The whole witches’ brew collapses in state of post-hysterical exhaustion.

Horenstein’s weaving of the Andante moderato, next to that of Mitropoulos in this music, comes as close to lyrical perfection as one can elicit from its agonized, resigned figures. Horns and harp make a lovely tandem, the woodwinds and strings having created an aura of sound, earthbound but ever striving for grace. The last movement’s opening Sostenuto requires several listenings–it is musical magic. Horenstein then proceeds to mount a series of staggering climaxes without losing the shape of the movement proper. By the time we reach the hammer blows of Fate, we are emotionally spent; the past is prologue.

It was Horenstein’s Nonesuch recording of the Nielsen Fifth Symphony (1921) that skyrocketed the conductor’s reputation for expertise in this music, which he had rehearsed for Furtwaengler back in 1927. Horenstein began to concentrate on Nielsen scores 1969-1972, and his performance of Saul and David is available on Opera D’Oro. Bright colors and daring musical syntax marks this symphony: the side drum part is played by David Johnson; Jack McCaw does the extensive clarinet honors. The whirling character of the first part might owe debts to Ravel or Stravinsky’s Fireworks, but the Northern sensibility, the piercing pedal-points, are strictly Nielsen. The Adagio non troppo section has a serene, assured resonance, a secure, lyrical improvisation. It. Too, expands to a noble peroration , the drum riffs rushing underneath, the clarinet making a segue to the second part Allegro’s initial tumult. Streaks of sound push this music forward. A fugal episode begins softly in the strings, joined by winds, then thunder from the tympani and weird pipings worthy of a Berlioz nightmare. The music’s chief saving grace is its sincerity of expression, the directness of its driving energy. The fever of the last few pages becomes quite molten, a resplendent testament for a studio recording.

In the brief included interview, Horenstein calls his musical-educational background Austro-German. He heard of Nielsen only in 1927, at the urging of Furtwaengler in Frankfurt. Nielsen was helpful during the rehearsals of the Fifth Symphony. Furtwaengler took Horenstein’s rehearsal and imposed his own vision upon the music from the first bars. Horenstein comments on Nielsen’s similarity to Janacek in his brilliant orchestration. Schnabel had recommended Nielsen, particularly the Aladdin suite, to Horenstein. Horenstein calls Nielsen, a lovely old-fashioned man – very human and considerate in rehearsals and experienced in handling orchestras.

— Gary Lemco

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