Jascha Horenstein Volume 2 = KORNGOLD: Prelude and Carnival from Violanta; SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10; HINDEMITH: Mathis der Maler–Symphony – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Orchestre Radio Symphonique, Paris (Hindemith)/ Jascha Horenstein
Doremi DHR-7998, 70:50 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
The name Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) still resounds to many music lovers and devotees of the baton who recognized from Horenstein’s lengthy but somewhat disparate recording career a singular talent of exceptional talent and communicative fire. A protégé of Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Horenstein enjoyed a brief tenure in Germany with the only permanent post he had, the General Music Directorship of the Dusseldorf Opera. Once he left Germany in 1933, he wandered to Russia and Palestine and then to America, to teach at the New School for Social Research. Though Horenstein became a U.S. citizen in the early 1940s, he led few American ensembles, preferring Mexico, Cuba, and South America, and then his main venue, Great Britain. The sheer breadth of Horenstein’s repertory yet manages to elude us, since many of the composers he championed he did not record. When he died in 1973, he had accomplished a cult status among Mahler enthusiasts as well as among those who knew his legacy of Vox, Unicorn, and Reader’s Digest inscriptions.
The opening music, the martial and orientally-scored Violanta (1916) of Korngold represents the kind of brilliant color that Horenstein could bestow on a well-trained ensemble, here, the Royal Philharmonic (2 June 1965). The music has a festive power, although its plot–derivative of love-death conceits from Tristan–involves seduction and murder in 15th Century Venice. The energetic performance skips and ripples with pageantry and sinister power, just the right mood to set the tone for its decadent and melodramatic theme.
As is well known, the acerbic and imaginative Shostakovich First Symphony received its first performance under Nicolai Malko 12 May 1926, when the composer was a mere twenty years old. Typical of Russian music, the score exhibits a definite polarity of brio and sublime melancholy, the latter often hidden behind a veil of irony. Horenstein leads (18 July 1970) a fine rendition from the Nottingham Festival, underlining the alternately lyrical and strident interchanges between strings and winds, the battery rudely charging in with that same rustic vulgarity we hear in passages of Mahler. The large sighs mixed with twitterings and circus figures remind us that Krenek and Weill–and the illustrations of George Grosz–elicited similar sensibilities in the 1920s. The Allegro second movement–with piano obbligato–moves with the dazzling, skittish audacity of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, cross fertilized by a religious sentiment, Gogol’s or Tolstoy‘s “Holy Fool.” The Lento seeks solace from Nature, but what emerges becomes a darkly brooding song of intimate pain and shattered dreams. A decisive death rattle opens the last movement Allegro molto, and Horenstein imparts to these measures the solemnity we associate with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Add to the sense of impending violence, an uncompromising ferocity of expression, and a dire tension mounted on a grand scale, and you have an incendiary interpretation of a modern classic.
Horenstein leads the Symphony version of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler (27 May 1954) from Paris, the same venue that produced his fine commercial reading of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, coupled with the Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms. With resolute consistency–almost like Stokowski–Horenstein exacts a wondrously homogeneous tone from his French ensemble, athletic as it is finely-honed and internally colorful. The Angelic Concert moves with a muscular elasticity we might mistake for a performance by Cantelli from around the same period, except the layered sound hearkens to Stokowski. The audience cannot help but applaud at the last chord. Deep purple, burnt gold, and black browns for the Entombment scene, Hindemith converted into a tableau by Rembrandt. Horenstein’s reading of The Temptation of St. Anthony is the broadest I know, yet its inner conflict moves with sinewy velocity, insistent and ominous in spite of whatever optimism lies as the basis of its creed. The pungency of the wind and brass choirs–and later, the inverted pedal in the high strings–makes us wish Horenstein had recorded music by Charles Ives. Masterful readings all, and so this disc comes highly recommended.