Horenstein in Venezuela, Vol. 2 – Orquestra Sinfonica de Venezuela – Pristine Audio

by | Jun 8, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Horenstein in Venezuela, Vol. 2 = BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in D Minor; R. STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration; BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3, Symphony No. 2 – Orquestra Sinfonica de Venezuela/ Jascha Horenstein, cond. – Pristine Audio PASC 717 (2 CDs = 2:16:42 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:

It may hold true that the measure of a great conductor lies not in his performance with a honed, veteran ensemble, but in the ability to raise a lesser orchestra to new heights, infusing in them a desire to surpass themselves. Such is the experience available to us in the case of Pristine Audio’s restoration of two volumes devoted to Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) in his appearances, 1954, 1955, and 1957 in Caracas, Venezuela, for a total of sixteen concerts. While Volume 1 (PASC 711) offers the concerts of 25 January and 1 February 1957, this second volume derives from live performances from 8 and 23 February 1957. The music, provided by historian and annotator Mischa, in cooperation with Andrew Rose and his clear XR restoration process, begins with the Bruckner 3rd Symphony in the controversial Schalk Edition, 1880. 

Horenstein, in fact, addresses the D Minor Symphony for the first time here in Venezuela; this, the so-called “Wagner” Symphony modeled on an opening horn call reminiscent of a motif from Tannhäuser.  The imperious confidence of the OSV brass impels us forward from the first harmonies, Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso, the music’s gaining a splendor and intimacy, at once, that marks the spiritual dualism inherent this break-through for the composer’s sense of symphonic proportions. The chugging Bruckner rhythm having been firmly installed, there occur lyric, dream-like evolutions into A Major, and a development section that has no qualms about citing Wagner motifs from his Ring cycle. Occasional rhythmic lapses and faulty intonation do not detract from the heroic impulse that guides this massive drama. The climaxes shine and shimmer with elemental power, the joy of discovery. This Venezuelan premiere of the D Minor Symphony – initially inspired by Horenstein’s presence at a Nikisch-led performance in 1912 – heralded a long commitment from Horenstein to the score, with which he toured further abroad. The explosive rise to the coda highlights the mode of D, but its color remains uncertain. 

The expressive power Horenstein evokes for the E-flat Major Adagio (etwas bewegt), beginning in four-part counterpoint, proves immediately compelling, emanating a distinct aura of sanctity to the occasion. The second part, Andante, shifts into ¾, replete with Wagnerian overtones again from Tannhäuser.  Scalar sequences and suspensions replace melody as such, the progress clearly set in organ-diapason mode. The challenge lies in maintaining a taut line as the music meanders over potent pizzicato accompaniment. When the brass does emerge with a spectacular clarion call, the effect rings with gripping intensity, passing into a sustained quietude.

A whirling motion sets the pace for the aggressive Scherzo (Ziemlich shnell) in 3/4, the brass quite barking against the timpani. The tones D and A from violins and violas seem to relish their respective dominance, creating a virtual eddy prior to the startling delicacy of the A major Trio’s scoring. Horenstein imbues the dance with Schubertian rusticity, savoring the brief hiatus from the maelstrom. The da capo returns with a willful fury, catapulting both the brass interjections and the wistful recall of the secondary tune. Horenstein takes the momentum into the final movement, Allegro, where the whirling mania finds relief in a kind of rustic polka. The limber quality of performance has the same charming appeal that Knappertsbusch achieves in his Decca rendition with the Vienna Philharmonic. Bruckner’s patented, sectionalized structure suddenly intrudes, not always to the best dramatic effect, even if the sonorities prove striking. The meditative episodes smack of Wagner mysteries, soon resolved in a blazing apotheosis, whose last chord elicits a burst of spontaneous appreciation from the audience.

The juxtaposition of Bruckner’s massive texture with the equally ripe D Minor string sonorities from Vivaldi make us think that the Baroque milieu will become a Romantic vehicle. The contrapuntal Allegro third movement thins the texture to allow the solo violin some delicate resonance. The approach here strongly suggested to this auditor the effects Stokowski nurtured in his applications in the Baroque repertoire. The ensuing Largo (e spiccato) dwells in a rarified atmosphere in which the solo violin sings a precious arioso. The strettos of the final Allegro vibrate with a darkly lush intensity, with Horenstein’s insisting on a definite bass line complement, the competing sonic masses, ripieno and concertino, nicely balanced. 

The Richard Strauss 1889 symphonic poem Death and Transfiguration, after Alexander Ritter, remained an Horenstein staple, as there exist five recorded versions. Horenstein moves this rendition briskly, though with no loss of instrumental clarity and detail. His first violinist in the Largo opening, accompanied by harp, flute, and assorted winds, sets a tone of impending mortality that does not immediately feel a theat. The ensuing Allegro molto agitato, the mortal storm, presents a real pageant, perhaps too gaudy for some tastes. We once more acknowledge the potent OSV brass section for its pungent effects. The extended past-recollections episode, Meno mosso, proves a tender sojourn of affectionate relations, real and ideal. The final section, Moderato, resolves into acceptance and a more spectacular, spiritual migration into that “undiscovered country whose bourne no travelers return.” 

The two remaining works belong to Beethoven, starting with the monumental 1806 Leonore Overture No. 3 (rec. February 1954) for the opera Fidelio, Beethoven’s drama of the triumph of justice over oppression, the movement from spiritual darkness to redeeming light. The initial motif has the protagonist Florestan singing from his dungeon, the music’s moving in a sonata form distillation of the opera’s grueling progress, with moments of dire menace until a trumpet call announces the birth of liberating rebellion, the ultimate justice for Florestan and his faithful Leonore.  For orchestral color, the trumpet, flute, and bassoon occupy pride of place, with a grinding series of utterances from the strings, later enshrined in brass. Typically, Beethoven’s orchestral compression renders much of the actual dramatic realization superfluous; hence, the rarity of this overture’s appearance as the prelude to the opera proper. The last measures, much like the music for Egmont, invoke a whirlwind of emancipated energies which rush to climactic judgment.  

We now have the only surviving document of Horenstein’s way with Beethoven’s 1802 Second Symphony in D, Op. 36 (23 February 1954). Horenstein directs a reading of potent intensity, with the Haydnesque opening measures suddenly erupting into volcanic, triadic motions that defy “classical” conformity, so far as their emotive content is concerned. The tug of war between D, A, and B-flat in the development section and before the coda rings with a feverish authority that may well have had the Venezuelan audience reliving what the original Vienna public faced in 1803.

The lovely Larghetto in A Major, 3/8, the heart of the work, became the envy of Hector Berlioz, and Horenstein’s molded phrases justify the adoration. Much of the evolving sonata form assumes the form of a tender clarinet serenade, both bucolic and passionate. Some glitches in the horn work and uneven sonics have only a minor effect, as the music maintains a lingering, tender majesty and noble vision. 

The Austrian countryside has provided Beethoven for the impetus for his robust Scherzo in D Major, rife with terraced dynamics. Oboe and bassoon contribute Trio colors that well anticipate the Scherzo in the later Pastoral Symphony. Horenstein establishes a blithe, easy motion in the outer sections and Trio, with some light touches from his French horns and woodwinds. An outdoor sense of virile freedom dominates the musical affect. 

The so-called “hiccup” motif that starts off the last movement, Allegro molto, 2/2, extends the breezily impulsive side of Beethoven’s musical personality, with jabbing punctuations from the brass, as the strings and tutti unleash aspects of Beethoven’s capacity to invoke Prometheus. The resounding thrust of Beethoven’s combination of rough humor and driving solemnity of purpose deliver a symphony still reverberant in its many-layered, emotional impact, the coda glorious. At the last chord, the audience, too, explodes.

—Gary Lemco 

More Information available through Pristine

Horenstein in Venezuela, Vol. 2

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, WAB 103;
VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in D Minor, RV 565, Op. 3/12;
R. STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24;
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b; Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36

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Album Cover for Horenstein in Venezuela, Vol. 2

From Pristine, historic recordings of Jascha Horenstein in Venezuela, Vol. 2, works of Beethoven, Strauss, Bruckner.  Classical Music Review by Gary Lemco.

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