BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
Pristine Audio PASC 203, 58:58 [www.pristineclassical.com – download & other options] ****:
Having reviewed the first acoustic 78rpm version of the Bruckner 7th with Oskar Fried on Music & Arts, it seems appropriate to review the first electrical recording of the same massive symphony, this from 1928 Polydor with the thirty-year-old Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973), then a member of the elite circle that surrounded Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Plastic and lyrical is the first movement Allegro moderato–with great Wagnerian spacious arches in its lengthy periods made of irregular phrase units of three and five–the real tour de force rests in the monumental C-sharp Minor Adagio movement, almost 22 minutes in length, a solemn hymn of inordinate girth and anguished power, held in taut relief against its many harmonic meanderings. Slowly mounting string scales and Wagner horns take to Bruckner’s answer to Valhalla, a nobly and–for the period–splendidly resonant vista. Himmel hoch! As restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, the various orchestral choirs collaborate in moody balanced orisons of singular intensity. The elegant C Major mystery of the last pages, with thumping bass chords under the diaphanous violins and flute, has to stand as one of the miracles of the original sound engineers.
A commanding energy marks the Scherzo, the trumpet inviting sweeping gestures, the supporting strings and tympani inflamed. The chugging ostinati move through the various orchestral choirs gathering ever more force, a snowball rolling uphill. The rhythmic tattoo enters the bucolic Trio, both thick and serene, has something of Siegfried’s sojourn into the woods. The da capo shivers with yet more fervent and feral agitation as of a gathering storm. The layerings of sound coalesce, separate, reel and then swell to a mighty peroration whose resonance still packs a shattering effect. No nonsense tempos for the Finale, which alternates with post-Beethoven mysticism and stolid march impulses colored by the wafting flutes. Even at Horenstein’s accelerated pace the labyrinths in the music, its sudden sea-changes in musical periods, give us the impression that spiritual complexity and crisis underlie the driven surface confidence of the progression. The music of the first movement returns in the form of fanfares, whose intensity reaches an apotheosis that well crosses Wagner’s Valhalla with affirmations of Bruckner’s idiomatic faith. [Was anyone in North America recording entire symphonies like this in 1928? I don’t think so. I know there were parts of a Beethoven Fifth with the "Victory Concert Orch." in 1917…Ed.]