Horenstein in Gothenburg, Vol. 1 – Schubert, Saint-Saëns, Mozart – Pristine Audio

by | Oct 15, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Overture to Idomeneo, K. 367; SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 “Great” – Philippe Entremont, piano/ Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 620, 79:24 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

 In the late 1960s conductor Jascha Horenstein led a series of concerts in Gothenberg, Sweden, and this disc captures the Maestro in potent form in the complete concert of 9 October 1969. In collaboration Mischa Horenstein, restoration producer Andrew Rose delivers in Volume One a sonic document of resplendent power and noble mien.  

Horenstein begins with the Overture to Mozart’s 1780 opera Idomeno, re di Creta, his initial effort at an opera seria in the Gluck tradition that gleaned from Brahms the epithet, “in general a miracle” creation. Mozart may no less have been influenced by the tragedie lyrique in French opera – especially given the prior libretto by Antoine Danchet – for this, his first masterpiece in the form. The Overture, with its slow introduction and dark, minor-key harmonies, seems a forerunner for the music to Don Giovanni.  Mozart casts the music in sonata-form, and Horenstein sets a rigorous tone for this early predecessor of the Romantic sensibility.

Pianist Philippe Entremont (b. 1934) joins Horenstein in a staple of the virtuoso repertory, the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor of 1868, his most popular of the five concertos. Opening “with Bach and ending with Offenbach” remains the eternal formula for the work, which can be as devilishly entertaining as it is technically challenging. The toccata flourish of the opening, cadenza filigree and the intense clarity of the string and woodwind support from Horenstein provide a model of elegant panache to the first movement.  The stunning double-octave passages from Entremont and their thick accompaniment in the Gothenberg strings invest a hearty drama into the proceedings. Despite the restless animation of the music, the performers evince a steady control and serenity in their studied allocation of dynamic effects.

The second movement, Allegro scherzando in E-flat, enjoys a liberated wit and breezy efficiency of means, the impulse having been derived from Chopin’s E Major Scherzo, Op. 54.  Entremont’s touch, leggieramente, projects a dervish impishness. The Gothenberg woodwinds and brass keep a close eye on the proceedings, and the light tone proves engaging and dazzling.  The Presto finale must take its cue from the Mendelsssohn saltarello at the end of the Italian Symphony – here, fiery triplets, saltarella. Entremont sets a pace most breathless, but Horenstein and ensemble remain undeterred, and together they deliver a rip-roaring performance that Clara Schumann once condemned in her own time as “vulgarly acrobatic.” The sheer, incremental volume and momentum of the collaboration simply explodes into a blizzard of arpeggios in the home key of G Minor for a coda that sends the audience into ecstasies.

This Schubert Ninth stands as our only document of Horenstein’s conception of this sublime music.  The measured, opening Andante proceeds briskly – in the Mengelberg tradition – with an extremely warm string tone in the cellos and basses.  Having set the tempo, Horenstein achieves a fine unity of effect, always a tricky proposition, given the composer’s frequent adjustments to the rhythmic pace. The ensuing Allegro, ma non troppo has a slightly feverish tint, at once martial and lyrical. The explosive cadences and sudden injections of militant filigree do not detract from the liquid quality of Schubert’s melodic passages.  The Gothenberg brass, French horns and trombones, enjoy a palpable luster that would seem to align the music with the Beethoven ethos. The Piu molto last section of the movement rushes to its ineluctable conclusion with an enlarged fullness of motion, the pacing guaranteed to hurl the various, competing impulses into a cauldron of grand, expressive energies.

My favorite movement from the work, the A Minor Andante con moto, with its opening oboe tune, has my favor resting in the Berlin performance of Wilhelm Furtwaengler.  Nonetheless, Horenstein sets an animated, martial tempo brisker than that of Furtwaengler, but no less dramatically convincing. The intervening, lyrical section shared by winds and strings, basks in a pastoral, laendler character, and the resultant tone establishes an Austrian serenity of spirit. Horenstein peppers the return of the main theme with lovely touches of both tonal color and rubato. The sense of melancholy, sharing an ethos with the Winterreise song cycle, urges itself in the last statements from the Gothenberg cellos, a hymn of praise – listen to that distant horn call – born from personal anguish.  

The cleverly wrought Scherzo literally dances its way into being – its last chord slightly retarded, as Mengelberg had effected. Between dance and explosion, the music hustles along in Horenstein’s often demonic realization, the orchestral volume’s swelling in majestic proportions. The Trio’s transition from C Major to A Major, carried out by a sustained note, appears seamless, despite its break from traditional procedure.  The obstinate, rhythmic intensity – here and in the Finale – becomes mesmerizing to the point that we do not realize how manic the music grows. It has been often noted that Schubert repeats the rhythmic figure of the last movement, Allegro vivace, over twenty times in the winds and brass in the course of its drive to a peroration in which the violins finally achieve an apotheosis in C Major.  The Gothenberg players, under Horenstein’s stellar leadership, remain electrically alert to all gradations of tone, rhythm, and color, to realize a plastic and lyrically dramatic performance that has waited too long to enter our collection of hallowed sound documents.

—Gary Lemco

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