> BEETHOVEN Symphonies 5,6 Horenstein VOX2 7808 2 [TD]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.5 in c minor op.67 (1804-8)
Symphony No.6 in F op.68 "Pastoral" (1808)
Overtures Coriolan, Egmont, Prometheus, Leonore III, Consecration of The House

Pro Musica Symphony, Vienna/Jascha Horenstein
(Mono recordings made between 1953 and 1958)
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When recently reviewing Horensteinís recording of Beethovenís "Eroica" reissued by Vox I regretted the fact that they had not used his first recording made in mono in Vienna in 1952 around the time of his other Beethoven recordings. My principal reason for this was the superiority of the orchestra then and I think that position is borne out by this fine double issue which comes from those sessions featuring "Pro Musica Symphony, Vienna" - essentially the Vienna Symphony Orchestra playing out of contract. The sound may be mono but itís well balanced and clear with little distortion to get in the way of some fine music making, so I welcome these familiar recordings back into the catalogue.

Honesty was always the byword for Horensteinís Beethoven - a quality that used to draw me to these Vox recordings in their LP form at the local music library in the late 1960s. His was a sound palette unadorned by attempts at forced beauty of tone. He also had that approach to tempi that tried to maintain a characteristic of uniformity throughout, binding and unifying, setting up a tension across the movements that was cumulative. Karajanís 1962 DG recordings were being borrowed from those same library shelves more times, but for me his growing stress on surface beauty was, even in those recordings, making crucial inroads that would eventually become fatal. Horenstein, along with Klemperer, was a definite antidote to this for which I was grateful even then. Toscanini, whose historic NBC Beethoven recordings were also available on those familiar RCA black and white boxed sets, was too soulless so it was Horenstein in those symphonies he recorded in the 1950s for Vox (3, 5, 6 and 9) and Klemperer who gave me most pleasure and insight. Later on I would discover Karajanís 1950s recordings with the Philharmonia and feel then, and now, that he never improved on them.

Under Horenstein the "Pastoral" opens with a first movement that is alert and springy with fine points of detail stressed through some sharp accents carefully attended to. These Viennese players are really on their toes where those in Baden-Baden for the later stereo "Eroica" remake were not. There is an appropriate feeling of joy at the arrival in the countryside here. Though it must be said this is quite a bracing walk so perhaps the coast isnít too far away with the whiff of ozone in the air. This means that only a marginal relaxation in the second movement is then needed for the necessary contrast as even here Horenstein keeps the scene moving along, though never at the expense of those inner details. I also like the way he unfolds the melodies with such affection and yet with a real glance back at the classical style from which they sprang. The tempo for the peasants in the third movement is closer to Klempererís legendary stately gait, but Horenstein injects real trenchancy and tongue-in-cheek humour that I enjoyed and this leads effortlessly to a storm that has great power achieved by the feeling that it is being held back slightly. In the end, as so often with Horenstein, the effect is cumulative with the tension screwed up to maximum by the end so that, with the arrival of the thanksgiving hymn, delivered with poise and warmth, the feeling of having arrived home from a country walk is real. So this is a lovely, lively performance I have enjoyed getting to know again. The sound is a well-balanced mellow mono, the kind Vox thought well suited to a single speaker gramophone but with enough reverberation to transfer well to two.

Itís good to hear how well the recording of the Fifth Symphony has come up also. Again a little extra reverberation from the days many of us listened to our music on Dansettes but still musically balanced and free of distortion. In the first movement a fundamental lyricism is balanced against a determined rhythmic gait. Horenstein is, unsurprisingly, not one to rush this movement but he doesnít let it drag either. His familiar ability to build a movement from within, staking out "way points", is never more clear as the close of the movement hove into view and some well-disciplined playing helps remarkably, as it did with the "Pastoral", to close the symphonic argument emphatically with a fierce logic. For some listeners this may be somewhat lacking in the visceral excitement generated by Carlos Kleiber on DG (447 400-2), the monumental grandeur of Klemperer on EMI (5667942), or the nerve-end exposure of Furtwängler on Biddulph (WHL 006) to name just three greater interpreters of this work, but it has its place and pays dividends. There is then a mordancy in the way Horenstein encourages the opening theme of the second movement to meander rather and some fine string playing assists him along with woodwind solos that are full of character from these fine players. Tension does drop rather in the third movement but there is enough in the detailing, especially in the all-important inner string details, to maintain interest, even though the blood is hardly stirred as it can be here. However, when the descent in the "valley of darkness" prior to the blaze of the last movementís opening, more of Horensteinís inner logic becomes clear. He wants to stress the mystery in this passage so even when the last movement arrives the stress remains on grim determination rather than the all-embracing triumph we are so often used to. So this is not the kind of Fifth that frays the nerves or inspires the heart. Rather it is one that seems determined to stress struggle and travail from start to finish. An interesting experience.

The overtures are no makeweights. They offer more examples of what a fine Beethovenian Horenstein was, fully in keeping with his style from the two symphonies. "Coriolan" is intense and romantic but still held in that iron Horenstein grip, as always engendering tension. Dark wind solos are stressed too and the climax is built with monumental tragic grandeur that puts me in mind of Furtwangler who was matchless in this piece. When the music falls away into smoky devastation we are aware of having lived through real events with Captains and Kings departing. The performance of "Egmont" from the same sessions shares many of "Coriolanís" characteristics. It starts in grieving intensity and notice how the total sound picture is attended to through the fine, well-balanced mono recording with basses especially well caught. "Leonore III" reproduces a tremendous timpani crack on the first chord and Horenstein proceeds to cover every aspect of what is, in fact, a symphonic poem in all but name. Excitement, drama, introspection and sheer blazing energy all in evidence along with the, by now familiar, honest and unadorned sound palette that I mentioned earlier. "Prometheus" is a nice contrast to what has gone in being suitably warm and good-humoured. Then there is "The Consecration of the House" recorded a little later than the others with rather more reverberation and top to the sound, but with the same sense of dark, determined tragedy, especially in the opening passage. Horenstein seems very keen to bring out Beethovenís tribute to Handel in the central section too and notice the use of the bassoon, another characteristic of this conductor. Klemperer gave this piece more grandeur where Horenstein is a touch more animated, but both are key interpreters of a work, heard less often than the other overtures here.

As with all these Vox reissues there is a fine essay on the life and work of Horenstein by his former assistant Joel Lazar.

A fine collection of performances showing Horensteinís Beethoven credentials very well indeed. Full of insights and interest and well worth investigating.

Tony Duggan


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