Horenstein Conducts Czech Music – Dvorak “New World”, Janacek – Pristine Audio

by | Aug 21, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”; JANACEK: Taras Bulba – Rhapsody for Large Orchestra – Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Dvorak)/ Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 603, 68:41 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Dvorak’s 1893 Symphony No. 9 n E Minor, early in the conducting career of Jascha Horenstein (1989-1973), provided a familiar vehicle for his colorful energies This performance for Vox Records, 1952, pre-dates by three years one of two equally effective readings by Ferenc Fricsay, that with his RIAS Symphony, made in 1955, among my preferred readings.  The Horenstein enjoys – despite the relative haste demanded by Vox – an easy, fluid sense of line, always sensitive to rhythmic flexibility and individual tonal nuances.  The slow introduction to the Adagio has not the tragic presence of Fricsay, but the horns keep the quiet, syncopated fanfare over the strings’ tremolo in taut relation.  The fluent transition to the Allegro moderato takes us, respectively, from G Minor to G Major, the flute and clarinet in good voice over a rustic, and I daresay, Bohemian drone.  The melody may bear some influence from H.T. Burleigh. The fluidity of movement, its plastic velocity, reminds me much of the famed George Szell rendition in Cleveland.  For pure, optimistic Dvorak, I would suggest the inexhaustible vision of Vaclav Talich.

Antonin Dvorak

Portrait of Antonin Dvorak

Horenstein savors the manifold colors of the Largo movement, of which the English horn solo, beautifully inflected, provides only one of many sensitive moments. The easy pulsations, the guided rubatos, work well to enhance the emotional tenderness of effect. The move from E Minor to D-flat proves arresting, and it will recur at the coda of this fine moment of Slavic homesickness, embracing the American tune “Goin’ Home,” which many us remember having been sung by Jan Clayton near the end of the fine psychological drama The Snake Pit, with a potent acting job from the late Olivia de Haviland.  The small string ensemble, the moment of camber music intimacy comes off quite well, a good rival to the other of Fricsay’s New World renditions, the 1960 performance from Berlin, 1960.  

Whether the frenetic dance motif of the Scherzo: Molto vivace owes debts to both Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and to the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth is open to eternal debate.  Horenstein’s ensemble relishes, the colors, often richly combined in syncopation and stretto. The Trio section has elements of Slavic folk dance, especially the furiant, in its easy, swirling motions, tinted by the winds and triangle.  The outer sections, colored by horns, brisk string work, bassoon, and tympani, ring with piquant authority.  Every phrase arises in molded harmony, fluid and virile with Dvorak’s dancing, kinetic energy.  The finale, Allegro con fuoco, launches forth its evocation of the Bohemian homeland with robust vigor, and the Vienna brass and strings appear especially urgent. The tensions and wistful homesickness of the music move in a seamless sonata-form so brilliantly crafted, it becomes an art that conceals art. The warmth of the symphonic line – originally a bit thin-sounding in the original Vox LP – has here in its Pristine incarnation the benefit of Andrew Rose’s XR process remastering that now compels our aural dedication.  The extended coda, rife with allusions to prior motifs, quite trembles with renewed, virtually apocalyptic energy, a testament to the composer and his faithful adherents. 

 Jascha Horenstein appears before the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Edinburgh on 20 August 1961, having replaced an indisposed Rafael Kubelik. He leads the 1915 three-part tone-poem Taras Bulba by Leos Janacek,  based on a colorful, 1835 Russian tale by Nlkolai Gogol, who wanted to demonstrate  that “in the whole world there are not fires or tortures strong enough to destroy the vitality of the Russian nation.” The story is set in sixteenth-century Ukraine, then under the rule of Poland. Taras Bulba, a fiercely dedicated Cossack, remains a warrior for life – recall Yul Brynner in the film version – and he pushes his sons onto the battlefield as their real source of education, only to watch them die. Each of the three sections deals with treachery and death. 

The Berlin Philharmonic under Horenstein has every opportunity to display its potential for potent color effects. The Death of Andrei features pungent harmonies, likely taken from the Moravian dialect that Janacek knew, as well as its rich legacy of folk rhythms.  The Death of Ossip features a high squeal from the E-flat clarinet that announces the Poles’ torture of Taras’ son, a sound not too far from Till Eulenspiegel’s strangled cry from Richard Strauss. The quirky mazurka that ensues has a macabre fascination, a blend of victory and violence. Taras Bulba, in a thwarted attempt to avenge his son, suffers capture and death by fire. “Can such forces overcome Russian strength?” queries Gogol.  The music, almost a moto-perpetuo in apotheosis, makes answer: in brass, bells and deep organ tones, the spirit of Taras Bulba floods our sensibilities in the guise of a colossal, Moravian chorale. I first came to this inspired music through the studio, of Vaclav Talich’s performance with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. This live radio incarnation of the Berlin Philharmonic under its venerable guest-conductor testifies to an immediate kinship of rarified spirits.

—Gary Lemco 

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