Mahler Symphony No3 & Strauss Tod und Verklarung – Jascha Horenstein

<div>Mahler Symphony No3 & Strauss Tod und Verklarung – Jascha Horenstein</div>

This Mahler 3 has always been highly thought of. Horenstein’s Mahler was unostentatious, so you don’t get heart-on-sleeve emotion. Nevertheless, he understood the composer’s fevered imagination, neurosis and quixotic nature.  

In the first movement at a forward moving tempo, each section is smoothly integrated into the whole, but Horenstein gives equal value to the quick and more funereal march elements, always seeks to clarify the textures, Dennis Wicks’ trombone solos are superb and unlike so many other performances the tension never slips. He glides swiftly and smoothly through the Menuetto, with some beautiful phrasing and expertly negotiates the bird-calls and whimsy of the Scherzando, where the use of an off-stage flügelhorn adds a magical touch. 

Norma Procter delivers an eloquent O Mensch!, even if she isn’t in the same class as Janet Baker or Christa Ludwig, but in the fifth movement the boys and women sound rather bland compared to Rattle’s in Berlin (DVD) and the tempo is perhaps too relaxed. But there are no perfect performances of this massive work and it is obviously part of Horenstein’s grand design. At a moderate speed the deeply felt finale is sung by the LSO strings, Horenstein doesn’t accelerate into climaxes and the coda, with two sets of timpani, is magnificent. 

In the Strauss, which was recorded at the same sessions, Horenstein lacks the searing intensity of say Barbirolli or Toscanini and doesn’t achieve a genuinely spiritual transformation. So you buy this for the Mahler and the Unicorn CDs have no coupling.

In terms of the sound, on the LPs the strings lacked definition, the double-basses were recessed and there was some very obvious woodwind spotlighting, which the official Unicorn CDs replicated. Nevertheless the overall effect was very impressive. This remastering derives from tapes recorded at the same sessions where only four microphones were used to capture the new, experimental quadrophonic recording technique; as opposed to the multi-mic set-up on the official version (there is an extensive description of the technical side in the booklet).

The result in DSD128 two channel is a clear improvement on the official releases, having a better dynamic range, definition, and clarity. Compared to the CDs the instrumental and vocal timbres are more analogue, the woodwind, which aren’t spot lit, sound much more real. The CD version inevitably loses some of the exceptional presence and projection of the download, but is still superior to the Unicorn ones.  

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