SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43; Violin Concerto in d minor, Op. 47 – Ivry Gitlis, violin/ Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Op. 47)/ Orchestre Radio National de France/ Jascha Horenstein – Pristine Audio PASC 516, 70:22 [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Superlative Sibelius interpretations to add to the Horenstein legacy, brilliantly assisted by veteran Ivry Gitlis.
The Second Symphony of Sibelius (1902) combines the composer’s love for Italy as much as his innate sense of Northern climes, given the often “stern” objectivity and distance of his muscular themes. The Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) legacy now embraces this often soaring work—still perhaps best captured in commercial recording by Koussevitzky in Boston, 1950—with a majestic, live performance from the Theatre de Champs Elysees, Paris, 19 November 1956. Typical of Horenstein, from the outset of the Allegretto movement, with its unorthodox sonata-form, the music assumes a fateful, driven pulse and direction. It has become a “fate” symphony, despite its bucolic, pantheistic leanings.
A marvelous bassoon solo flows through the striking pizzicato strings to form a Tempo andante, ma rubato movement in the Aeolian mode. Much like the Koussevitzky approach, the accent lies in the thunderous bass line and often screeching high strings, horns, and tympani. I find nothing “French” or “Gallic” in the sound of the orchestras: it has been thoroughly metamorphosed into a Scandinavian ensemble, brazen and rough-hewn. The gestures remain large, opulent, heroic. True, a pantheistic mysticism infiltrates the music, the winds and horns intermixed with passionate, rolling and arpgeggiated figures in the strings. But the striking interjections become convulsive, a moment of that mortal storm Shelley witnessed for his “Ode to the West Wind.” When the seizures abate, we can finally breathe a rarified moment of bitter-sweet, monumental closure, if not repose.
The ensuing Vivacissimo clearly embraces a manic fury, at least until the melancholy drumbeat and oboe solo that may well sound a knell for the composer’s sister-in-law, who died by suicide. The dirge passes quickly, and we hurtle forward—with one more brief stop for the lament—to what the composer means to be an extended transition to a Finale: Allegro moderato that climbs an ineluctable, Olympian height. Rest assured, the trumpet work has everything Sibelius—and Mahler—would require of an assault on the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Sibelius Violin Concerto has a dazzling performance from master Ivry Gitlis (b. 1922) from Vienna, with Horenstein’s conducting the Vienna Symphony in 1955 for Vox. While Gitlis went on to perform the Sibelius Concerto with George Szell, this performance remains more risky and often startling in its intensity. The Allegro moderato assumes an eerie, anxious character, moody, and beset by titanic, warring impulses. The breathed quality of the violin phrases sets a distinct foil to the cold, threatening environs of the orchestral part. When Gitlis himself projects a wry and acerbic dissonance, the effect becomes unnerving. The sense of abandon, of obsessive impulse, both arrests and jars us. The “banshee” effect in the coda—and throughout the last movement ‘polar bear’ dance—warrants the price of admission. The slow movement, Adagio di molto, remains among the composer’s most affecting utterances, and Gitlis and Horenstein play it to melodic perfection. The suave finesse of the Allegro, ma non tanto finale astonishes in its plastic transitions and Gitlis’ effortless shifts of register and sumptuous double stops. Certainly, we have a potent, imaginative performance to rival the “standard” favorites from Heifetz, Haendel, Wicks, Ferras, (young) Stern, Neveu, and Oistrakh. The sound quality, courtesy of Andrew Rose and his patented XR process, has given us Sibelius acolytes much listening pleasure.