Horenstein = NIELSEN: Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 “Sinfonia espansiva”; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82 – Alexandra Browning, soprano/Colin Wheatley, baritone/ BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein – BBC Legends

by | Feb 28, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Horenstein = NIELSEN: Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 “Sinfonia espansiva”; SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82 – Alexandra Browning, soprano/Colin Wheatley, baritone/ BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein; Bonus Track: Robert Simpson discusses Jascha Horenstein

BBC Legends BBCL 4249-2, 75:29  [Distrib. by Koch] ****:

Two concert excerpts from late in the career of Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973), the Kiev-born conductor noted for his wide-ranging musical sympathies and his colossal, incisive energy. Having championed the music–notably the Fifth Symphony–of Carl Nielsen as early as 1927, it comes as no great surprise that his rendition of the Sinfonia espansiva (30 October 1970) from Manchester Town Hall should vibrate with pungent sonorities and measured counterpoint. The onslaught of colorist syntax in Nielsen begins with massive unisons and move to the “impressionistic” modalities of the Andante pastorale, then into the contrapuntist of the Allegretto un poco, which allows the strings, horns, and woodwinds no end of luxurious interplay. Long-lined and pungently acute, the music proceeds under the secure hand of a singular concept. The two vocal soloists function as orchestral instruments, wordlessly intoning an aura of landscape or emotional panorama. More contrapuntal entries open the last movement Finale: Allegro, music that mixes a lolling sarcasm with potent, romantic impulses. The BBC brass insert an apocalyptic impulse into the froth, which then dissipates into another delicate canon, though exotically harmonized, the punctuated rhythms reminiscent of the fugue from Weinberger‘s Schwanda the Bagpiper. The muscular peroration brings an onslaught of applause from the rapt audience

Horenstein committed to his programs and commercial inscriptions a small but impressive number of scores from the Sibelius catalogue, notably the Violin Concerto with Ivry Gitlis and Ruggiero Ricci, and the Second Symphony. Again, a considered tempo ties the long arch of the E-flat Symphony (32 October 1970) together, the ostinati and woodwind runs floating over a series of menacing, tympanic thuds. Here, the venue is the Sheffield City Hall, and the sharp acoustics contribute to those modernist tendecies the symphony harbors even as it plays out a romantic, epic journey. Like Celibidache, Horenstein relishes the pungent, drawn-out stretti in strings and brass, the woodwinds interjecting sforzati that shake us. The climax brings a series of variants on the opening, rhythmic impulse, the theme rising in broken scales in the winds. The staccato, punctuated syncopations gain a feverish momentum as Horenstein catapults the first movement to a decisive, stinging coda.

The Andante mosso quasi allegretto provides another study in orchestral effects and mixed choirs, the winds virtually chirping their version of the opening pizzicato rhythm over resounding cellos and basses. The music proceeds as a kind of parody in passacaglia, the same materials given over to shifting textures and rising scales and then more fluid affects. The horns swoop, the strings grumble and pluck, the phrase lengths diminishing as the horns provide pedal effects. Despite the sarcasm of the progression, one might find some debts owed Brahms and the second movement from the Mahler C Minor Symphony.  The movement ends with a romance and half-cadence; then, the buzzings of the third “movement” begin, though the kernels of the Finale already lay in wait. A terrible tension arises from the stretti of this last movement, even as it approaches a huge apotheosis of sound, the BBC horns in blazing display. The monster “Bravo!” from the audience says it all.

In his abridged interview, conductor-musicologist Robert Simpson recalls (2 April 1973) Jascha Horenstein upon the day of his death. “The least pretentious of men,” Simpson reflects. Understated at all times, Simpson reveals a deep sense of loss. “Persons and their situations interested him as much as music.” Horenstein worked with what Simpson calls “a stoic persistence” that would test an ensemble until it realized “the purity of his feeling.” Simpson admires that Horenstein could “purify” a sentimental score because he found its structure.  Simpson remembers Horenstein’s Brahms Requiem as the finest he ever heard. 
Bruckner “appealed to Horenstein’s sense of space.” Intense dignity and irresistible force are the traits that Simpson celebrates rather than eulogizes; for him, Horenstein remains alive and well.

— Gary Lemco


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