HORENSTEIN conducts Mahler Symphony No. 3, Lieder (1954/61) - PASC565

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HORENSTEIN conducts Mahler Symphony No. 3, Lieder (1954/61) - PASC565

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MAHLER Symphony No. 3
MAHLER Kindertotenlieder*
MAHLER Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen*

Live and *studio recordings, 1954* & 1961
Total duration: 2hr 10:39

Helen Watts, contralto
*Norman Foster, baritone
Highgate School Choir
Orpington Junior Singers
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
*Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Jascha Horenstein

This set contains the following albums:

Although a beautifully bound score of Mahler's Third Symphony found in Jascha Horenstein's library boasts a calligraphic dedication to him on his twenty-fifth birthday, 6 May 1923, the work appears to have entered his repertoire only in January 1953 when he gave its Italian premiere in Rome. Strangely and sadly, the Italian broadcaster RAI did not preserve the tapes from that occasion, which also included the world premiere of Alban Berg's Altenberg songs (PASC 445). Horenstein subsequently conducted the symphony twice in London, made a celebrated commercial recording for Unicorn in 1970 and performed it again in Turin, Italy, in December 1970. The present recording documents Horenstein's second performance of the symphony in November 1961, an occasion that is associated with several notable “firsts”: it was the first concert performance of Mahler's Third in the UK by a professional orchestra; it was the first time the London Symphony Orchestra played the work; it was the first time Helen Watts sang the solo part for which she later became famous, and it marked the first appearance of the celebrated Highgate School Choir on an international stage.

The performance, errors of execution notwithstanding, faithfully reproduces Horenstein's meticulously fashioned view of Mahler's longest symphony, with a strong sense of unity within each movement and through the work as a whole while maintaining the rich diversity of pace, rhythm, character and motif that Mahler poured into it. The interpretation is clearheaded and direct, climaxes are slow to build (a characteristic feature of Horenstein's Mahler) but absolute in their power and never leave one in doubt as to where and when the culminating points are reached. In this performance, probably due to the presence of an audience, Horenstein abandoned the somewhat reserved air that distinguished his Unicorn recording for a more forceful, propulsive approach of sustained and intense concentration and sweep, capturing some of those qualities that in the concert hall made him so absorbing and persuasive an interpreter.

Of the two song cycles included on this disc, Horenstein's favorite by far was Kindertotenlieder, whose world premiere recording he conducted in Berlin in 1928 with soloist Heinrich Rehkemper. He subsequently performed it with, among others, Marian Anderson, Janet Baker and Fischer-Dieskau but only recorded it and the Wayfarer songs with baritone Norman Foster for Vox. Horenstein “found” Foster in Vienna while working on Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (PASC 468) and although he described him as “simply marvelous”, they never again collaborated following the present recordings. Possessor of a deep, rich, well-supported voice with good diction but a somewhat limited upper range, Foster delivers dark, vibrant performances of Mahler's two song cycles that also highlight many characteristic features of Horenstein’s style: clarity of texture, subtle rubatos and a seemingly effortless coordination of details within the larger musical form.

Misha Horenstein



MAHLER  Kindertotenlieder
1. 1. Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n   (5:37)
2. 2. Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen  (4:45)
3. 3. Wenn dein Mütterlein  (5:02)
4. 4. Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen  (3:03)
5. 5. In diesem Wetter  (6:55)

MAHLER  Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
6. 1. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht  (3:27)
7. 2. Ging heut morgen übers Feld  (4:10)
8. 3. Ich hab' ein glühend Messer  (3:03)
9. 4. Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz  (5:06)

Norman Foster (baritone)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Jascha Horenstein

Recorded at Dominikanerbau, Bamberg, Germany, mid-September 1954
Engineer: Ward Botsford
Originally released as VOX PL 9100

MAHLER  Symphony No. 3

Erste Abtheilung
10. 1st mvt. - Kräftig, Entschieden  (30:03)


Zweite Abtheilung
1. 2nd mvt. - Tempo di Minuetto  (8:41)
2. 3rd mvt. - Comodo, Scherzando. Ohne Hast  (16:18)
3. 4th mvt. - Sehr Langsam. Misterioso. Durchaus Leise  (8:46)
4. 5th mvt. - Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck  (4:03)
5. 6th mvt. - Langsam, Ruhevoll. Empfunden  (21:40)

Helen Watts (contralto)
Dennis Egan (posthorn)
Denis Wick (trombone)
Highgate School Choir, Orpington Junior Singers, London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Jascha Horenstein

Recorded live, Royal Festival Hall., London, 16 November 1961

XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Jascha Horenstein by Photo Tornow, Lausanne from the archive of Misha Horenstein.
Special thanks to Dr. Klaus Holzapfel for copies of BBC Transciption discs of Symphony No. 3

Total duration:  2hr 10:39

Fine Account of Symphony: Mahler's Third at Festival Hall

The Times, 17 November 1961

At the beginning of this year, Mahler's third symphony had never been performed in this country at a concert. In the last nine months it has had two performances in London: the first, in February, was a brave, wholly admirable but not wholly satisfying, semi-amateur one; last night this long, extremely difficult and idiosyncratic work, a collation of everything that Mahler burned to communicate, was at last performed by a major British orchestra in the Festival Hall

The London Symphony Orchestra presented and played it under Mr. Jascha Horenstein. who clearly knows and loves it from the inside of the music outward, and who unfolded a deeply sympathetic conception with extraordinarily moving power.

Mr. Horenstein is a conductor, it seems, whose real quality is only discerned when the mood fires him: and it does not always yield fire. Mahler, on the evidence, strikes the spark for him more regularly than any other composer. This was certainly the most convincingly-felt reading that we have heard from him during his present visit, and his earlier work with the London Symphony Orchestra had established a responsiveness that realized the spirit as well as the letter of his, and Mahler's demands.

Mahler's music is so precariously poised on the verge of articulate speech that a performing style, in which anguished cantabile and wild, terse outbursts and cheerful (sometimes not so cheerful) folk tunes cohere instead of contradicting one another, is not quickly achieved. The L.S.O. seems to be finding such a style, partly through experience under stylish Mahler conductors, partly through knowledge of the music from which Mahler's descends.

The flora and fauna of the intermezzi were delightfully characterized, with smart rhythmical articulation, but there was also the essential depth and intensity of sound for the heavenward-turned final Adagio.

If Mr. Horenstein's reading was at any point to be questioned it could be in the enormous opening movement: not because the introduction was taken at a brisk tempo—this was structurally advantageous—but because the climax of the development was reined too heavily for the eventual return of the opening horn-call which should follow more spontaneously than it did here. Over the span of the whole symphony this blemish seems to have been a minor one. Mr. Horenstein, and his forces which included Miss Helen Watts in appealing voice, the Highgate School Choir and Orpington Junior Singers, as well as ladies from the L.S.O. Chorus, spoke eloquently for Mahler.

(The Mahler was coupled with Brahms for that particular release - these reviews are unedited)

Sometimes you come to appreciate some of the conducting legends of the past when you have first listened to one of the conducting duds of the present, and that was my experience with this Mahler Third. I had just suffered (yes, I believe that is the precise word) through Carla Delfrate butchering the music of French opera composers when I put on this Mahler Third. The difference in musical intelligence, feeling, phrasing, rhythmic lift, and correctly judged tempos was like escaping the River Styx and being elevated to Valhalla.

Yet even without such a quantum leap in conducting quality, one cannot escape the feeling that this Mahler Third was indeed one of the great, even momentous, concerts of the 20th century. Shockingly for such a late date, this was its first professional performance in England, and those familiar with Horenstein’s work will know that the British were extremely lucky to have him for this concert. Just about the only negative thing one can note about this recording is the somewhat dry mono sound—good for a 1961 broadcast (indeed, better than Horenstein’s equally legendary Mahler Eighth) but still restricted in sonics. But heavens, what a performance! I actually think that Horenstein’s performance of the first movement even outstrips that of Georg Solti, which up until now was my all-time favorite reading of it, largely due to the more finely detailed layering of the instrumental texture. Despite the boxiness, you hear everything, and every instrument or instrumental group seems to have something important to add to the overall “story” of the music. Nor was I alone in my reaction: At the end of the movement, the London audience does something highly uncharacteristic for the British at an orchestral concert: they roundly applaud the first movement. It’s quite an achievement, and it seems almost incredible that this is its first-ever commercial release.

Moreover, unlike Solti (and even unlike his Nonesuch studio recording of this Symphony with the same orchestra), Horenstein’s intensity and musical drive never slacken in this performance, not even for a millisecond. Seldom have I heard the second movement played so exquisitely, the strings singing sweetly and the rhythmic underpinning simply astonishing. Many years ago, before I began reviewing, I bought, heard, and was disappointed by James Levine’s Mahler Third recording, and I was only slightly more impressed by a live performance he gave with Jessye Norman as the mezzo soloist in Carnegie Hall. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with it, but this Horenstein performance has everything right about it that Levine simply got wrong. Perhaps too much “devotion,” too much psychoanalyzing Mahler at the time he wrote it, and too little of just digging into the score and translating it into sound? It’s hard to say at the remove of 40 years, but let’s just say that Horenstein has the full measure of this Symphony while Levine only had a fair idea of it.

Now, one should be aware that Horenstein’s view of the score is not always 100 percent what Mahler wrote. He sometimes ignores tempo changes and gives his own spin on the music, but to my ears everything he does in this performance works well. Not to keep beating the same drum, but that first movement is an excellent example. In the studio recording, it went along at an almost dirge-like pace; here, it is utterly dynamic and thrilling. In both the studio and live versions, the posthorn solo is beautifully played by Dennis Egan, and this is one moment in this broadcast where the sonics are good enough to give the listener a fine sense of “space.” Helen Watts’s singing is rich and beautiful, although not quite as expressive in detail as Janet Baker with Michael Tilson Thomas (Sony-CBS) or Ewa Podleś with Antoni Wit (Naxos), my other two favorite Mahler Thirds. The Highgate School Choir is superb, having that sound that one somehow instinctively associates with British children’s choirs. Horenstein’s tempo in the last movement is brisk when compared to other Mahlerians (21:13 compared to Tilson Thomas’s 26:13 or Wit’s 25:31), which some listeners may interpret as a race to the finish on Horenstein’s part, but just listen to the feeling he elicits from the LSO; and, at this clip, the movement lacks its usual “draggy” feeling, as if it were an interminable exercise in bathos. Now, of course, it can and does also work well at the slower tempos that Tilson Thomas and Wit use, but that is the magic of Mahler. His symphonies, unlike almost any others I can think of, can withstand nearly any and every tempo change one can put into them. The only thing they cannot withstand is a boring reading, and boring is not a word one can apply to this performance.

As a bonus (since the entire Third Symphony clocks in at a few seconds under 90 minutes) we age given an equally spectacular reading of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Claudio Arrau as soloist. My readers know that I like but do not really love Arrau as a pianist; everything he played was good and usually had the right style, but many of his performances and recordings are no better than those of several other pianists. Here, however, he truly sounds caught up in the moment, not least due to Horenstein’s exquisite shaping and phrasing of the music. Although I still love Fritz Reiner’s dynamic 1954 account with Rubinstein and Max Fiedler’s old-world and slightly eccentric (but still musical) performance from the early 1930s (with Alfred Hoehn as soloist), there is just something so shapely and well-phrased about Horenstein’s reading of the orchestral part that it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Arrau takes a while to heat up—his entrance is played very well but not with any particular abandon, but then just listen to the way he responds with both remarkable fire and stunning nuance to the equally nuanced playing of the French Radio and TV Orchestra. The best way to describe this performance, overall, is as an alternation of a singing line with ebb and flow against the dramatic outbursts, the latter never dull but also never so explosive that they ruin the line of the music. Oh, there are many of those among our young conductors today who could learn a thing or three from Horenstein about phrasing! True, the strings in the last movement sound a little scrappy, but no matter. The musical treatment and intensity of this performance trumps technical polish.

Archipel provides absolutely no liner notes with this release, not even a sentence or two to tell prospective buyers who Jascha Horenstein was. Even though I know that a recording like this is aimed at the collectors’ market, that very few people will bother with a 53-year-old mono recording of the Mahler Third when they can get digital stereo from Tilson Thomas, Wit, or the late Claudio Abbado (another outstanding version), but I still feel that the label owes it to those few who are under age 30 and buy this release to let them know who Horenstein was and explain his importance. Otherwise, I recommend this set highly.

Lynn René Bayley (Fanfare Magazine 37:5, May/June 2014)

Jascha Horenstein, one of the great conductors of the 20th century, was unaccountably neglected by the major record labels. Most of his studio recordings appeared on the Vox label. RCA recorded a few Horenstein performances to be issued by Readers’ Digest Records, and in his last years he made some recordings for the small British Unicorn label. Fortunately, his discography has been augmented by the release on CD of many concert performances, and any addition to this treasure trove is cause for celebration, especially if it is of the quality of this 1961 performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony. Horenstein was especially renowned as a Mahler interpreter, and this release certainly makes clear why that was. Separated from his fine 1970 studio recording for Unicorn by a substantial period of time, it is consistently quicker than the later performance but never rushed, and it is superbly articulated and shaped. (For more detailed information on the performance, I refer readers to Lynn René Bayley’s rave review in Fanfare 37:5.) The set includes as a bonus a performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with none other than Claudio Arrau as soloist (what a bonus!). In a way, this performance is even more valuable than the Mahler, since the concerto does not otherwise appear in Horenstein’s discography. The Archipel label specializes in historical recordings and puts them out by the bushel, for low prices but often with slipshod processing. This release is an exception, with sound that is very good for early 1960s broadcast material that presumably does not derive directly from the radio archives. The sound is clear and reasonably well balanced, without the sharply peaked treble that has disfigured some other Archipel releases.

This CD preserves a “never before released” live recording of the first professional British performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony in 1961. It was given under the baton of Jascha Horenstein, who did much to spearhead the revival of the composer’s music during the 1960s. In 1970, three years before his death, Horenstein returned to the score for a famous studio recording of the same work with the same orchestra as here. That version on Unicorn remained as one of the principal recommendations both on LP and CD for many years.

This live performance does not get off to a very promising start, with a fluffed note from one of the horns on the very opening beat, and it cannot be pretended that the sound is anything like as good as on Horenstein’s studio recording, with the low brass at 1.02 growling rather indistinctly. That said, the internal balance of the orchestra is good, and they deliver the music with the real joy of players discovering a new and unfamiliar score. The CD insert — it would be unduly charitable to call it a booklet — gives no information at all regarding either the music or its performance, but the acoustics are rather dry and leads one to deduce that the venue was the Royal Festival Hall; the 1970 recording was made in Fairfield Halls. The solo violin at 4.45 is placed very forward in the mono sound, which leads me to suspect close microphone placement presumably originating from a broadcast source. Dennis — spelt Denis on the CD cover credit — Wick’s trombone solo at 5.55 is very stentorian; the same player was more nuanced in 1970. Later on the internal balance of the orchestra becomes less than ideal, with the chirruping and squawking woodwind at 20.00 badly masked by the brass and what sounds suspiciously like panic-stricken recording engineers reducing recording levels. Unexpectedly the audience bursts in with applause at the end of the movement; maybe at the original concert the interval was taken at this point.

The second movement, with its much lighter scoring, produces fewer problems for the engineers. In the third movement Mahler wrote an extensive solo for an offstage brass instrument which he originally designated for the flugelhorn. In later revisions he changed the description of the instrument to “posthorn”, but this seems to have been a purely poetic change of title and the part is invariably played on the flugelhorn – as in Horenstein’s 1970 recording – although on the CD cover it is stated that Dennis Egan plays a posthorn. The balance between the offstage instrument and the onstage players is not ideal, but it does not appear that Egan manages all the notes with total accuracy, and there is a horrible trumpet error at 15.43 which sticks out like a sore thumb. Horenstein makes no pause before the fourth movement — the audience coughing between the second and third movements is given full measure — but the entry of Helen Watts is sheer balm. She recorded the part again in the studio for Solti some years later, in what is otherwise an unpleasantly blatant reading; Solti re-made the work for his complete Chicago cycle. Here in the very earliest days of her notable career she is firm as a rock and as implacable as granite in her declamation of Nietzsche’s Midnight Song from Zarathustra. And thankfully Horenstein has no truck with the exaggerated portamento in the woodwind phrases which Mahler may possibly have intended to imitate the wood birds of the night but which sound horribly and inauthentically modern in other performances. The orchestral deep brass sound murkier than might be ideal, and there are a couple of horn notes that are not perfectly steady; but this are minor blemishes in an enchanting performance.

Unfortunately there is a CD break between the fourth and fifth movements — Mahler asks that they should be played continuously — but this does avoid the sudden interruption in mood which would otherwise have been perpetrated by the very loud and forwardly-placed bells at the beginning of the Knaben Wunderhorn song. The choirs on the other hand are rather backward and far from distinct – although noticeably below pitch at 1.49 – but Watts is once again a tower of strength. This is a difficult movement to bring off in performance, and it is at this point in the recording that one is aware of a lack of familiarity with the score. The solemn entry of the strings at the beginning of the last movement brings a real sense of engagement even though the violin tone could be warmer. It is nice to hear the period style in the use of string portamento as specified by Mahler, an effect which became unfashionable for a time but is an essential part of the composer’s sense of line. Horenstein sometimes presses forward in a manner which he avoided in his later recording, but not beyond the bounds of acceptability; and although another trumpet glitch in the chorale theme at 16.09 is most unfortunate, Horenstein generates a real sense of white heat in the closing pages. The audience cheers at the end are well deserved.

Horenstein does not appear to have changed his view of the score much over the years; comparisons of timings in the movements show the first three rather slower on Unicorn nine years later, while the last three are slightly quicker. Overall he took some seven minutes longer over the score in 1970, a fairly minimal difference in a work of this length. Those who want to hear his interpretation of Mahler’s Third Symphony will gravitate towards the better sound and less accident-prone playing in 1970. But they will have to sacrifice Watts’s singing of the alto solos, richer and more nuanced than Norma Procter on Unicorn. On the other hand the singing in 1970 of the Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir and the Ambrosian Singers in the fifth movement is more assured and better balanced than the assembled choral forces were in 1961.

The Unicorn issue however comes without any coupling spread over two CDs, while here we are also given a very substantial bonus in the shape of Claudio Arrau’s performance of the Brahms First Piano Concerto again with Horenstein conducting. Although the reading has plenty of fire from the opening bars, the recorded sound is much less satisfactory than in the Mahler with the orchestral playing decidedly thin in places, and the acoustic is unpleasantly boxy in the tutti passages. Recording engineers in the studio were getting much better results at this period. Mercifully Arrau is not placed too forward in the recorded balance, and we get a good impression of the sound of his piano. At this stage in his career Arrau was a more volatile and less monumental player than he became in his later years, and he forms a dramatic partner for Horenstein who – as in his contemporary recordings with Earl Wild of the Rachmaninov concertos – is a sympathetic accompanist. But the horn in the first movement at 9.31 is a particularly bad example of the weak and watery tone of French instruments at this period, sounding for all the world like a tremulous saxophone. If you like this sort of ‘national’ style of playing, you’ll love it; although you may be less impressed with the squeeze-box effect of the woodwind at the beginning of the slow movement. This was clearly a very great performance indeed, with which one is delighted to make acquaintance; but the orchestra and the recorded sound do rather let the side down.

Paul Corfield Godfrey, Musicweb International, July 2014