> Beethoven Eroica, Haydn Clock Horenstein Vox7807 [TD]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No .3 "Eroica"
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 101 "The Clock"*

Symphony Orchestra of Southwest German Radio, Baden Baden and Vienna Symphony Orchestra*/ Jascha Horenstein
(Recorded in 1957)
VOX LEGENDS VOX 7807 [79.02]


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During his time with Vox in the 1950s Jascha Horenstein recorded four Beethoven symphonies Ė the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth. In fact he recorded the Third twice for them: once in mono in Vienna in 1952 and again in Baden-Baden in 1957 when stereo had become available. Vox have, for obvious reasons, chosen to reissue the stereo remake but I wish they had taken note of the fact that the earlier mono recording had the finer orchestra and represents Horensteinís interpretation of this cornerstone work much better. That isnít to say that this second recording doesnít have any value; it does. Itís just that you have to put aside any qualms about some less-than-secure ensemble and what can best be described as a lack of corporate commitment to what Horenstein is trying to do which itself must have had an effect on what he was able to do.

He maps the first movement with his customary single-mindedness through the familiar practice of one modular tempo to suit the whole movement meeting every eventuality. If this were a map it would be of the physical structure of the landscape: all primary colours to indicate those features that are independent of anything that humans may have put there. For this reason it may seem to some listeners rather two dimensional. What you in fact end up with is certainly a surprisingly lyrical account of the movement, though one that is way off the very fast tempo Beethoven probably wanted. But Horenstein is certainly not alone in that respect and as I have always preferred my Eroicas grand and romantic there is no criticism from me there. However, in the final analysis I do think Horensteinís first movement misfires through the inability of his orchestra to play in a manner that suggests no more than a "run-through". His own unyielding approach on this occasion delivers too much dourness where animation and energy is needed. The second movementís funeral march fares better with a dark-toned counterpart to the first movement. There are some passages of real intensity, notably from the tension Horenstein screws up in the central fugal section. After this the third movement has to act as a bridge between the dark drama of the first two movements and the extraordinary transformation that takes place in the last. I think Horenstein fails in this by again not injecting enough lift and essential energy into the scherzo material. His tempo and tone are simply too dogged to make you aware that a new world of feeling may be ahead. Here is an example of where one of this conductorís most interesting traits can seriously be to his detriment. Once again the orchestra sounds under-rehearsed; not really in sympathy with the man with the stick. The suspicion raised in the third movement that the performance would ultimately fail to deliver that essential transformation of mood that comes with the last movement and makes this symphony so remarkable proves to be correct. Right the way through, these Prometheus variations are unable to throw off the overall dour tone that threatened the first movement and compromised the third. So in this movement, of all the four, the effect is profound. The impression remains that this is what Horenstein really meant to give us because it is delivered quite well in itself. However as a convincing presentation of this symphony as a multi-faceted world of its own it is a real disappointment. If the "Eroica" fails in those terms I believe it has failed altogether. Horenstein had quite a dark temperament that could sometimes prove inappropriate and that is the case with this "Eroica", I think. If you also add this to an orchestra that is neither top-flight nor appears to be in sympathy with him then the conclusion is that this recording is one for Horenstein admirers and the curious. For more compelling "Eroicas" there is an immense list to choose from with men like Monteux and Klemperer at its head.

With big band sonorities and spacious tempi Horenstein clearly sees Haydnís clock as a big, solid, mahogany Grandfather with a second movement pendulum that is possessed of an impressively wide swing and a weight the size of a dinner plate. The central section of this movement in particular is unashamedly grand and imposing but in fact all the spacious tempi Horenstein adopts throughout the symphony are sustained well by the orchestra. The recorded balance with woodwind close in further demonstrates the quality of these Viennese players. This contrasts with their colleagues in Baden-Baden who let Horenstein down in the Beethoven. The last movement could have done with being a little more vigorous but played like this it suits the rest of the performance. It has the same mordant and searching quality that is set out so well by Horenstein in the dark and elegiac introduction to the first movement. The recorded sound in both works on this disc is very much the "house style" of Vox in being warm and reverberant but simple and clear in layout. Only a little distortion gives away the 1950s vintage.

Whilst the Beethoven ultimately disappoints, the Haydn is sufficiently interesting to make this disc a welcome reissue from the Vox Horenstein collection.

Tony Duggan

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