Horenstein Vol. 4 – BERLIOZ; SCHUMANN; SHOSTAKOVICH/ Orchestre National de l’ORTF – Yves St-Laurent

by | May 22, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HORENSTEIN VOL 4 = BERLIOZ: Le Carnaval Romain, Overture, Op. 9; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 – Malcolm Frager, piano/ Orchestre National de l’ORTF/ Jascha Horenstein – Yves St-Laurent YSL T 1465 (2 CDs = 40:04; 53:01) [78experience.com] ****: 

This fourth volume of conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) performances from Yves St-Laurent, taped 10 October 1967 in the Théatre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, complements the substantial catalogue of issues from Pristine Audio – supervised by Mischa Horenstein in collaboration with Andre Rose – and the 9-CD  2004 collection, “Jascha Horenstein: Broadcast Performances from Paris, 1952-1966,” released by Music & Arts ((CD-1146). 

Horenstein had the sponsorship of Wilhelm Furtwaengler to advance his career, and he made his debut in France in 1929, then sojourning to the USSR (following Oskar Fried in their mutual exclusion from German cultural life), and onward to Paris in 1933. Post-war, Horenstein resumed his European tours in Italy and France in 1946, including a rare mounting of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in November 1950. In 1952 Vienna, Horenstein began his association with Vox Records that would enshrine his name with American audiences, the partial repertory of which this disc duplicates in the Shostakovich 5th Symphony. 

Horenstein begins with an exuberantly expressive reading of the Berlioz 1843 Roman Carnival Overture, essential a composite of themes from his opera Benvenuto Cellini. The oboe and French National Orchestra strings weave a compelling, taut, lyrical line, early emanating the festive impulses that overtake the latter part of the piece, an evocation of the celebrations at Rome’s Piazza Colonna. The trumpet work immediately compels us, with Horenstein’s setting a fierce tempo with no slurring of the individual color elements. The idiosyncratic Berlioz counterpoints become both alluring and explosive as Horenstein nears the coda, a whiplash realization that has its peroration quickly met by an appreciative audience.

The Schumann Piano Concerto of 1845 has for the soloist American Malcolm Frager (1935-1991), whose claim to stylistic authenticity lies in his studies with Carl Friedberg (1872-1955), a direct pupil of Clara Schumann as well as having been tutored by Johannes Brahms. Frager won the Piano Competition in Geneva (1955), the Michaels Memorial Award in Chicago (1956), the Leventritt Competition in New York City (1959), and the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels (1960). Frager’s is a clear, non-percussive approach that enjoys a smoothly liquid tone and soft legato. The French strings and woodwinds add to the lush coloration achieved in the symmetries of the Allegro affettuoso, in which Schumann utters each melodic statement twice, with little alteration in the contour. Leisurely and eminently songful, then intensely impassioned, the movement moves to its recapitulation that features Frager’s studied, introspective, florid, and volatile cadenza, sporting a vividly wicked trill. The segue to the coda has Horenstein propulsively on cue, and he and Frager sail to the last measures with fiery panache. 

The Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso in F enjoys a thoroughly warm, romantic atmosphere, a five-minute idyll of repose and lyrical musing. The transition in the woodwinds feels ominous enough, with some raucousness from the horns, and then the thrust into the Allegro vivace in the tonic major. This rhythmically protean music, 6/4 in transit with 3/2, has Frager dancing with some percussive authority in the scalar and staccato passagework. Still, a whimsical and playfully rhapsodic sensibility lingers in the course  of the rondo-sonata mix, with Frager and Horenstein often engaged in a dramatic dialogue of resonant vitality. The symphony ensemble’s brass and timpani work proves as equally compelling as Frager’s seamless execution of Schumann’s demands for gradations of touch and timbre. The coda seems to sashay in romantic luxury, quite taking the Paris audience by storm.

The emotional and dramatic potency of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony (1937) obviously appealed to conductor Horenstein, who relished the music’s likeness to aspects in Gustav Mahler, especially in Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Symphony No. 1 in D Major. The opening thrust of the Moderato, rife with canons in sixths and thirds, instills a haunted, enigmatic tension that permeates the entire movement. Horenstein seems to take his model for this music from the work’s initial interpreter. Yevgeny Mravinsky, especially in its agonized, stringent lyricism.  The dotted rhythmic  Bpulse that absorbs the brooding ostinato in the bass – even as the flute and harp attempt to soften the dark impact – becomes overpowering in its dire oppression, much as this music means to “respond to just criticism” by Soviet government censors for the composer’s former transgressions into “overt formalism.” The implied irony of all this “political” contextualization of symphonic music asserts itself in the gross pageantry that erupts periodically, particularly in the last movement, which the composer described as “enforced jubilation.”  Nevertheless, the ferocity and dramatic tenacity of Horenstein’s rendition – despite brief moments of technical insecurity – has the immediacy of impact we know from the New York proselytes of this music, Mitropoulos and Bernstein.  Flute, horn, violin, and piccolo contribute to a sad progression to the celesta’s final tones. 

The second movement, Allegretto, offers a scherzo in A minor, close in spirit to the second movement of Mahler’s First Symphony. The violin and harp strike up a rustic dance in folk style not far from Beethoven’s idea of earthy humor. The contrapuntal, percussive, and pizzicato effects add to the gruffly inflated contour of the music, whose sarcasm consistently mocks the martial edicts of emotional strictures on creative life.  Horenstein emphasizes the gloom of Soviet life in the third movement, making of the Largo (in F# minor) a dirge for strings, with occasional interludes for winds, the flutes and oboe in tandem with the harp. The bleak emotional landscape becomes unendurably anguished, and rarely has a French string ensemble reached such extremis, with the appearance of the timpani. Tremolo strings and forest sounds offer consolation, but these are cries from the wasteland.  Clarinet, xylophone, and celesta contribute chamber music color, but these effects fail to lighten the scene, which soon becomes gravely oppressive, even mechanical, in sound. The severity of anguish may be akin to the more tortured moments in Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio. The harp, strings, and celesta have the last word here, in Shostakovich’s pained Lento, and the word seems an exhausted adieu. 

The last movement, Allegro non troppo, remains difficult to interpret emotionally, given the composer’s purported remarks in Testimony. The epithet, “You will rejoice!” undercuts any real sense of festivity in the various march tunes that rather blast us forward. The tocsin invoked by the trumpet over punctuated ostinatos hardly seems uplifting, ending as it does in a kind of collapse of the main themes. A temporary wind serenade emerges, and the strings take up the music in low register, while the brass provide a pedal. The ensuing melody has a pathos worthy of Mahler, striving for some (frustrated) apotheosis. Debatable triumph comes in the form of a D major march, goose-stepping and relentless, an emotional Pyrrhic Victory — except for Horenstein and his responsive l’ORTF ensemble, brilliant and committed in every measure for an outstanding concert experience.

—Gary Lemco

More information through Forgotten Records

Album Cover for Horenstein Vol. 4

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