BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; Haydn Variations; Tragic Overture – Orch. of the Southwest German Radio/ Orch. Nat. de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio

by | Oct 13, 2015 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; Haydn Variations, Op. 56; Tragic Overture, Op. 81 – Orch. of the Southwest German Radio/ Orch. Nat. de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 449, 68:53 (CD) [avail. in various formats {incl. a very good pseudo-stereo} from] ****:

Audio restoration engineer Andrew Rose continues his admirable project of reviving the legacy of conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973), resuscitating the Vox Brahms recordings of late October 1957, along with a live broadcast from 19 November 1956 of the Tragic Overture in d minor.  Despite a somewhat harsh patina, the F Major Symphony proceeds with a natural flair within a well established, middle German tradition.  Horenstein, like Bruno Walter, does not take the first movement repeat. The tensions between f minor and F Major and the rhythmic ambivalence between duple and triple meter work themselves out with a hearty, rapid sense of the dramatic, treating the lingering A-flat of the minor mode as a kind of upbeat to the virile statement of the F-A-F motive as a positive assertion.  The tugs of war proceed in sonata-form, land on a potent pedal point that releases a series of stretti that resolve into something like pastoral resignation.

The most autumnally lovely of the four movements, the Andante opens with a clarinet statement that moves into a rocking melody accompanied by string motion in triplets and passing dissonances. Horenstein instills into this reverie a capacity for both poignancy and fleeting humor, often marked by a brooding nostalgia. The presence of string portamento places Horenstein’s conception in the Romantic vein, though not so pronounced – nor as dramatically forceful – as those readings from Furtwaengler and Mengelberg. The ensuing Poco allegretto combines a haunted nocturne with a kind of bucolic middle episode.  I recall Robert Mitchum and Katherine Hepburn’s somber response to this music in the film Undercurrent.  Horenstein’s transition – and diminuendo – to the French horn for the da capo proves effective.  Horenstein imbues the Allegro finale with a combination of menace and firm resolve, jabbing the accents and moving with hearty gusto to various incarnations of Beethoven, from whom Brahms never recovered.

The 1873 Haydn Variations for years “belonged,” in my mind, to Bruno Walter. The sense of security-within-transformation marked the Walter concept; and, so, too, does Horenstein’s often quicksilver approach reveal the dexterity of the Brahms imagination. By the second variant, we move into the minor with a series of syncopated dance gestures. Polyphony already makes its presence known, Con moto, a foretaste of the huge passacaglia of the Finale.  While the fifth variant, Vivace quakes with nervous energy, the sixth at the same tempo, explodes with a gusto we know from Hungarian Dances. The long-familiar 6/8 Grazioso gives us a pastoral siciliano that Thomas Beecham called “most happy.”  In six octaves, the seventh variation enjoys the composer’s claim that hiding the theme does more for the composer of variations than a “doglike” clinging and “overloading” it. Horenstein concludes the set with a poise and dignity definitely “old world,” in the Handelian manner of pomp and circumstance.

My first experience of the 1880 Tragic Overture in d minor came via Fritz Lehmann and the Berlin Philharmonic.  Its opening bars set the tone, with fateful blows as a descending fourth followed by a drum roll, a theme in arpeggios, and then a militant series of syncopes punctuated by the tympani.   Horenstein moves into the progression with a force much in the manner of Beethoven, especially in overtures to Egmont and Coriolanus. The big theme in A-flat Major in the brass has luxurious tremolos underneath it. We realize how large an ensemble Brahms wants, including piccolo and tuba.  When the clouds disperse, we sense F Major, but Brahms does not dwell there long. The development resides often in the strings alone, sometimes with winds, playing with a minor and e minor, as though the Fourth Symphony were imminent.  Horenstein gives full vent to the convulsions that will eventually lead to the recapitulation, by way of g minor and eventually D Major.  Flutes, oboes, and clarinets conjoin in a mournful song prior to the last spasm of energy. The heretofore long-silent French audience erupts with pleasure.

Kudos to Andrew Rose on a restoration that well captures the sonic warmth of the LPs that many of us miss dearly.

—Gary Lemco