Liszt: Eine Faust-Symphonie

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Eine Faust-Symphonie
PERFORMER: John Mitchinson (tenor); BBC Northern Singers & SO/Jascha Horenstein
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4118-2 ADD
Jascha Horenstein’s artistry embodied integrity, humility and unfailing musicality, and his repertoire inclined towards monumental works that really mattered to him. This 1972 account of Liszt’s Faust Symphony begins with an ideally rounded, mysterious sonic realisation of the questing augmented-triad melody; that introduction launches a performance of this potentially sprawling work that seems to unfold in one continuously motivated line of thought. One is never led to question the importance of the music, nor the commitment of Horenstein and his forces. Those attuned to Horenstein’s artistry may well prefer this performance to all others; surely the fervent yet loving phrasing in ‘Gretchen’ results in one of the most eloquent recorded accounts of this movement.

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The aspects of Liszt’s style that go underplayed here are seething energy and crackling diablerie in the faster sections. Giving full rein to such tendencies was never Horenstein’s way, and perhaps his conviction that the Faust Symphony should be taken more seriously than it sometimes has been contributed to his Apollonian approach. Achieving an unbroken, mellifluous line in this work is a remarkable achievement, but set beside Iván Fischer’s revelatory performance, which tellingly characterises individual moments while driving the music forward with irresistible flair and import, Horenstein often seems a bit too aloof. Even so, it seems unlikely that any other approach could yield an account of the ‘Chorus mysticus’ that is so impressively cumulative yet humane. The recorded sound achieves a particularly successful combination of spaciousness, focus and transparency. David Breckbill