Jascha Horenstein, conductor – RATHAUS: Symphony No. 3, Op. 50; KORNGOLD: Prelude and Carnival Music from Violanta, Op. 8; SCHREKER: Prelude to a Drama – Royal Philharmonic Orch. (Korngold)/ London Sym. Orch. (Rathaus)/ BBC Sym. Orch. (Schreker)/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 434, 71:50 [var. formats avail. at www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Ukrainian conductor Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) enjoys a strong revival at present, certainly through the auspices of Pristine Audio and record producer and remastering engineer Andrew Rose. With the assistance of Mischa Horenstein, whose collection supplied these recordings, we have here a set of three important works, performed at British venues 1956-1965.
Violanta was Korngold’s second opera, composed after the comedy Der Ring des Polycrates when the composer was only seventeen years old. It was given a double-bill premiere with Der Ring in 1916 at the Munich Court Theatre under Bruno Walter, with Maria Jeritza in the title role. The sensuous texture of the music – with its Tristan love-death formula – blends elements of Richard Strauss and Puccini, glossy, with hints of the liquid melodic style we would later associate with Korngold’s lush Hollywood scores. The use of winds, brass, strings, tympani and a prominent harp part contribute to an exotic “adventurous” orchestral patina. Horenstein (2 June 1965) and the Royal Philharmonic turn in as luxurious a sound as we imagine from the great Romantic master of the Errol Flynn epic.
The LSO studio performance of the Symphony No. 3 (1943) of Polish composer Karl Rathaus (13 March 1956) represents the world premiere performance of a work the composer suppressed, likely in response to the hostile premier in Frankfurt, Germany of his Symphony No. 2 in 1923. Rathaus and Horenstein had been fellow students in composition under Franz Schreker after that teacher’s move to Berlin. The symphony, in four movements, remains within an idiosyncratic tonal syntax, often as militantly brooding as it is lyrical. The idiom often sounds oddly familiar, as though Mahler had been filtered through a color medium Hollywood had found attractive in Bernard Herrmann and David Buttolph. The Scherzo takes its hues from Mahler’s exotic Das Lied von der Erde, especially the “Of Youth” movement, whimsical and playful, incorporating elements of Schubert in the laendler mix, with its triangle and cymbal flavors. The Andantino proves quite lugubriously expressive, the kind of music we might associate with a New York City set of a film noir, preferably starring Richard Conte. The last movement, Allegro appassionata, has something of the Beethoven Fifth motif that infiltrates its muscular drama. The more relaxed episodes enjoy a refreshed airy lyricism, unaffected and cleanly articulate. The full orchestra contributes a glorious Technicolor to the spirited finale, which achieves a grandeur worthy of this under-represented composer.
Franz Schreker’s Prelude to a Drama (1914) has a brief introduction for the BBC Third Programme of 16 November 1957. Though no specific drama receives credit, the piece has a marvelously “magical” character in the opening pages. Schreker dedicated the full-bodied orchestral work to the Vienna Philharmonic and its conductor, Felix Weingartner. The color mass proves huge, with the addition of glockenspiel, side drums, castanets, xylophone, gong, piano, and celesta. Most of the musical continuity remains vague and merely “effective,” again in the Hollywood sense. We sense a master of the lush and exotic, but with limited control of architectural ‘drama.’ That Horenstein made this one work his only concession to his old music master has more relevance for us than the composition per se.