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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 and No. 6 – Vienna Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67; Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral” – Vienna Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 508, 73:46 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Producer Andrew Rose totally refurbishes two classic Beethoven readings from conductor Horenstein, revelations of their kind.

Restoration engineer and producer Andrew Rose continues his splendid campaign to reinvigorate the legacy of Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973), here with last of the monaural recordings Horenstein made for the Vox label, 1956 and 1958. Those who recall the original LP pressings wince in pained recollection of scratchy surfaces and acerbic acoustics that despoiled anything like the kind of mellow color and rhythmic control that Horenstein could exert over a Beethoven performance. The Fifth Symphony (15-16 February 1956) truly enjoys a sonic renaissance, given the classical elasticity of the reading, which in many respects, achieves what Erich Kleiber likewise attained for this mighty work in Amsterdam.

The reading proffers a model of energized poise, thoroughly balanced yet specific in its accents and instrumental emphasis. The entire symphony seems to have been chiseled from one fine meteor, a fluid procession that has fixed its goal to meet “fate’s knocking at the door” with a sense of assured spiritual victory. The Vienna Symphony woodwinds appear especially alert, and the oboe part sings with a canny allure. The pizzicato strings in the Scherzo I find beguiling, and the transition to the last movement unfolds with controlled, dramatic force. If the brass and high winds in the last movement do not impel your blood and quicken your pulse, you are likely dead.

Mischa Hornstein recently posted a photo of his summer retreat, and I commented that it seemed a perfect instance of Jascha Horenstein’s Pastoral Symphony from June 1958. This reading, while sincere and sympathetic to the bucolic, even pantheistic, heights in the work, does not linger sentimentally over the musical periods. It somewhat reminds me of the Hermann Scherchen approach, a brisk performance that prefigures in many ways the Zinman and Norrington fascination with Beethoven’s original metronome marks. The sheer delight in rustic, instrumental singing in the opening Allegro ma non troppo movement radiates a serenity and intensity, even so far as the bassoon and flute entries. The horn part add a definite luster that border, early, on the magnificent prayer of thanksgiving with which the symphony concludes.

The 12/8 stream of the Andante con moto effects a trim, slick motion, quite in keeping with our surviving portraits of the composer’s avid peregrinations into the woods. The tripping strings receive a bold color support from the VSO viola and cello line. Certainly, the idea of Nature’s refreshment of the spirit – its transcendental (and Technicolor) potential – effectively communicates here without cloying, histrionic gestures. Hats off to the VSO principal flute and his esteemed woodwind associates. A particularly earthy peasant dance follows, Allegro, in which the bassoon, oboe, French horn and VSO bass fiddles add a fertile loam. The muscular procession leads inevitably into the noted, apocalyptic thunderstorm, which Berlioz once compared to the “end of the world.” Critic David Patrick Stearns rightly points out the “serpentine sense of legato” Horenstein maintains to indicate the devastation the storm has wreaked. The orchestral tissue shimmers with Nature’s bounty, King Duncan’s generous remark, “I have begun to plant thee and will labor to make thee full of growing.” This has been a noble, impassioned reading, and it’s time for appreciation in the CD medium has been long overdue.

One caveat: there were tiny, mini-second breaks in the transitions between the last three movements.

–Gary Lemco

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