LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: New Philharmonia Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4051-2
Mahler’s tragedy queen of night wears tattered orchestral garments in this 1969 live recording, a thing of shreds and the occasional purple patch not best served by a strangely blurred rendering of Royal Festival Hall acoustics. The chief interest is the way she glides with alternating power, stealth and subtlety in Horenstein’s just-about-decipherable interpretation. Anyone who by the time of this performance had heard Klemperer’s grotesquely overstretched EMI version of the previous year, with the same orchestra admittedly playing at a much higher level, must have been amazed by Horenstein’s forward-moving sense of purpose (close in its 74-minute timing, Joel Lazar’s reliable documentation tells us, to the composer’s own reading). He sets up the first movement’s marching with unusual impetus before slowing for a briefly incandescent central vision, while the first ‘night music’ gives space to echoing horns before swinging into the action proper. Above all there’s a persuasive quick lilt to the intimate moments of the otherwise noisy daylight finale – crucial towards the end of a movement which can outstay its welcome.
The orchestral playing, unfortunately, rarely rises to the occasion. There’s a relay-baton of second-rateness passed from the woolly tenor horn who fluffs his opening note to the first oboe – a wrong cue in the middle of the first movement, bad counting at the beginning of the second – and on to the prominent first horn of the fourth-movement serenade and the terrified trumpeters of the finale. Any one of the major interpretations from the last two decades can set this right – best of all the brilliant Brummies under the wilful but always fascinating Rattle. David Nice