BEETHOVEN: The Creatures of Prometheus – Overture, Op. 43; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Overture to the Consecration of the House, Op. 124 – Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio/ Vienna Symphony Orchestra (overtures)/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 505, 66:20 [ww.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Andrew Rose and Pristine Audio extend the Jachsa Horenstein Beethoven legacy with three significant additions.
Pristine Audio continues to issue, with the support of Mischa Horenstein and the commitment of audio engineer and producer Andrew Rose, the legacy of Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) to everyone’s benefit. This release of the May 1957 Vox label Eroica only instills in us a retroactive desire that record companies had committed themselves to preserving a full set of the Beethoven symphonies from Jascha Horenstein for posterity’s benefit.
The program opens with Horenstein’s leading a 1953 performance with the Vienna Symphony – from an elusive Vox disc – of Beethoven’s 1801 Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus. Horenstein might well be preparing a rendition for the Fourth Symphony, given the gravitas he elicits from the slow, introductory (dissonant) passages that will soon erupt into the boisterous muscular Allegro that celebrates the Greek Titan’s love and sponsorship of Mankind. At the end of this program, we feel the other side of Beethoven’s creative spectrum, where the spirit of Handel reigns high. The 1953 version of the 1822 Overture to the Consecration of the House once more alerts us to the quality of the Vienna Symphony oboe, and the assisting colors from bassoon, trumpet, flute, and tympani. The opening Maestoso e sostenuto proceeds in a decidedly regal fashion, only to explode with contrapuntal fury – Allegro con brio – that makes its own demands on the ensemble, responding with clarity and elastic authority. While the stern, polyphonic progress of the music has its interruptions, the underlying, manic pulse of the reading never wavers; and Horenstein and merry band carry us to colossal, ennobled heights that a few renditions – by Jochum, Klemperer, and Karajan – have managed to rival.
The immediacy of effect in Horenstein’s opening Allegro con brio chords of his Eroica actually bore my repeating the experience: spacious and consistent in pulse, we feel that the initial measures set the formal parameters of the entire movement. The crescendos hurtle forward, certainly in the best Toscanini tradition, but responsive to the metric ambiguities as some of the great German-tradition renditions can be, those of Furtwaengler, Kleiber, and Klemperer. The horns, particularly, instill the martial rhythm while the strings travel at often bristling speed. Some effective stereo effect occurs in the development section, in which the middle winds erupt antiphonally against the strings. What a huge canvas Horenstein paints, as sense the colossal struggle to find metric homogeneity and heroic certainty in the midst of ambiguity and compromise. Some fine pianissimos deliver something like a mystical haze in the midst of some titanic moral-aesthetic conflict. The last pages solidly close a traversal of a sonata-form structure unprecedented in music history.
Horenstein applies a solemn, martial tempo for Marcia funebre, one I recall from the BSO/Leinsdorf to mark the announcement of JFK’s assassination. The emotional tenor of the music assumes that austere sentiment expressed by Dante’s Francesca, when she remarks, “the greatest sadness occurs to recall moments of bliss in suffering.” Horenstein’s transitions here are worth noting, how the lighter mood itself maintains a grim dignity and then epic tragedy in the horns and layered strings over the tympani. A slight pause, and the grim procession renews, now moving to a contrapuntal, anxious, stringendo quickening of the blood. The attacks from the horns interject blows of fate; then, by slow degrees and fanfare, the musical persona – in the midst of literally palpitating anguish – must find a means of recovery and stoical optimism.
The remaining two movements – Scherzo: Allegro vivace and Finale: Allegro molto – each bears the impress of a solid pulse that allows individual colors and gradations of sound their full effect. The woodwinds and strings of the Southwest German Radio ring particularly bright, even hard, with the tips of the bows applied to the Scherzo string line. The brass line for the Trio could easily announce a royal hunt, one step away from Berlioz. A missed beat in ensemble does not detract from the lithely suave effect of this movement. A bit marcato, Horenstein announces the main theme of the last movement, its deft application of the “Prometheus” elements and the Variations of Op. 35. Lyrically somber and yet rhythmically flexible, the theme moves with a direct sense of purpose, the tempo’ having been secured from the first. The contrapuntal progressions move naturally and clearly enough, with bombast, without affectation. In fact, we feel the polyphony a rehearsal for its more severe growth in the Op. 124. Even the balletic effect manages to insinuate itself into the progression, amidst the strict counterpoint, with the flute’s high aspirations and the forte interjections of the brass. We feel that a grand master has taken us through a Classical structure rife with a revolutionary intensity, and the whole has been a transparently colossally secure enterprise.