This 2-cd set contains two of Horenstein's finest recordings from the monaural era. How many conductors are equally distinguished interpreters of Bruckner and Mahler? Horenstein was one of the few, and this version of the massive Eighth Symphony (using the 1890 text) must count as one of the most compelling renditions of this score ever recorded. The great slow movement builds inexorably toward a shattering climax, and the difficult finale is held together remarkably well. Of course the "Vienna Pro Musica" isn't the BPO or the Concertgebouw, and you will hear somewhat emaciated-sounding strings and a number of horn fluffs from time to time. No matter. This is Horenstein at his best, and that means a performance of elemental power. I would rank this not far below Fürtwängler's 1944 recording and Karajan's swan-song with the VPO from 1987. Perhaps the best news is that the old Vox recording never sounded better than here. The orchestra is observed as if from an ideal seat in the hall--far enough back so that the instrumental choirs blend effectively, within a spacious ambience, but not so removed that the impact of the tutti passages is compromised. In fact, the sound is amazingly well focused and clear for this label at this time.
The Liszt and Wagner items are also given satisfying performances. The *Faust Symphony* is a difficult work to bring off--Liszt was never at his best when thinking big, as he is here--but Horenstein's rugged account conveys the appropriate mixture of rapture and irony. The provincial orchestra plays well enough, though it's hardly a world-class ensemble. The sound is good, if not quite as remarkable as the remastering of the Bruckner. Not a formidable rival to Beeham and Bernstein then--they secure better playing from their respective orchestras and are given more up-to-date sonics--but a welcome and generous coupling for a grand Bruckner Eighth.