Horenstein: Haydn and Mozart Symphonies, Vol. 2 – Pristine Audio

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 I G Major “Military”; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner”; Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague” – Orchestre Radio National de France (Haydn)/ Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (K. 385)/ Vienna Symphony Orchestra (K. 504) – Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 681 (65:25) [pristineclassical.com] *****:

The second installment in Pristine’s restoration of post-war interpretations by Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) of Haydn and Mozart, 1956 and 1960, this excellent production features marvelously resonant sound and orchestral definition in each of its presentations. In his accompanying liner notes, Mischa Horenstein mentions the “unconventional” and “controversial” aspects of critical responses to Horenstein’s renditions of the Classical repertory, but I have no such qualms. One might argue about Horenstein’s staid tempo in the Minuet’s Trio of the Haydn “Military” Symphony, but the temper of Horenstein’s performances remains smartly virile and cogently vital.  

The Haydn 1794 Symphony in G “Military” (live, 22 November 1956) represents a work Horenstein did not commit to disc for any commercial company, and Andrew Rose has enhanced the sound with ambient stereo that does not distort the musical effect. The tensions of the first movement, Adagio – Allegro, may lack the breezy finesse we hear from Beecham, but the lyrical gravitas and bemused pomp remind us of the richly colored Bruno Walter tradition.  The Paris flutes and oboes thrust us forward into a hearty, rustic D Major energy that teases and swells with Haydn’s elastic, witty invention. Horenstein’s maintenance of a transparent texture keeps the staunch aggression from bogging down in seriousness. 

The eponymous “military,” second, Allegretto movement proves no less persuasive in the winds and horn parts, the tune’s having originated in an earlier piece for the King of Naples. The sudden “invasion” of janissary elements, in brass, triangle, bass drum and cymbals conforms to the exotic impulse that no less affects Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. The bugle appears in collaboration with a thunderous roll from the drum, and t he movement ends with a decisive thump. The third movement bears a sturdy, dignified pomp, the winds adding a touch of light to the music’s swagger. The Finale: Presto combines sonatas form and rondo, the colors diversified in key changes and by the timpani’s intrusion, only to have the janissary effects return with a playful malice. The kind of response Horenstein elicits from his French ensemble in Haydn may remind connoisseurs of the equally pointed collaboration of such forces under Igor Markevitch. 

I have prior noted that Mozart’s 1782 D Major “Haffner” Symphony bears the hallmarks of the “emotional” (empfindsamkeit) school of C.P.E. Bach, with its melodic leaps and demonic rhythmic drive, especially in the opening Allegro con spirito. Horenstein (30 November 1960) leads Ernest Ansermet’s Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in a frothy, muscular rendition, quite attentive to the harmonic and metric audacities (often in D Minor) that imply a burgeoning, hefty, romantic temper in this music. The omission of repeats further impels this interpretation in its demonic attitude. For me, the sound from the Lausanne Palais de Beaulieu seems a bit distant. 

The G Major Andante from Horenstein basks in a graceful, chorale-like progression, the winds and strings gliding over a combination of 16th and 32nd notes. The latter syncopations in the movement provide a delicately nuanced contrast. The D Major Menuetto enjoys a decisive gait, tugging mostly between tonic and dominant chords, marked forte. The A Major Trio has a gentler persuasion, lyrically rendered by Horenstein as a dramatic relief from the repressed storms of the first two movements. Horenstein’s Presto finale in sonata-rondo format has a devout energy, with a fine sense of interior lines. The French string players’ articulation proves first rate, assisted by spirited figures in the winds. We feel Osmin from the opera Seraglio nigh in his assertive, pompous spirit. At the coda, the Paris timpani makes its dramatic presence felt, a solid peroration.

Mozart clearly loved the city of Prague, and his 1787 Symphony No. 38 in D serves as a love letter to the city of extraordinary breadth and beauty. Horenstein, playing for Vox Records (rec. 3-4 February 1956), opens with a grand resolve, on a par with my preferred renditions by Frederick Stock and Bruno Walter. The Vienna Symphony woodwinds take pride of place in the Adagio – Allegro first movement, with its pedal points and busy bass lines. Mozart calls on the use of Mannheim rockets to accelerate his dramatic momentum, followed by a lyrical, arioso outpouring rare in all music. The polyphonic currents well anticipate the devilish facility that Mozart commands, ready to reach fulfillment in his Jupiter Symphony. For want of a better term, the performance seethes with that grand “humanity” of Mozart’s epic scores.

The Andante second movement has few rivals for elegant depth of expression, the woodwinds in tandem with the low strings to produce a mood of exalted, tearful repose. The music’s operatic character constantly flows, easy and gracious, as Horenstein lights up its periods that, at moments, descend into more serious passions. Sacheverell Sitwell well described this wondrous movement as “redolent of regret and affection.”  The Presto finale persists in tis quotes from The Marriage of Figaro, in flesh as well as spirit. Susanna and Cherubino, fresh from bantering in Act II, take the stage here in a series of tumbling, perky syncopations. The VSO flute has his moment, and the music explodes in flights of lyric beauty, punctuated by the VSO flute and bassoon, as well as by acrobatic, whimsical counterpoints of colossal vitality. We wonder if Horenstein imposed the fury of Beethoven into this reading, but somehow we do not object.

—Gary Lemco

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