These nine CDs contain
Parisian broadcast material made by Horenstein and the ORTF National
Orchestra between the years 1952 and 1966 – but see the note about
the Barber Concerto for a dating query. The value of such a box
to admirers of the conductor can hardly be underestimated given
the very uneven nature of his recorded legacy. At a stroke ten
and a half hours has been added to the canon, three quarters of
which has been previously unpublished. As the box cover notes
with understandable pride, seven hours is new to the market.
Given this bulk
of material there are necessarily caveats to be noted. The sound
quality varies. It never sinks below a certain level but equally
it’s seldom really outstanding and compresses the spectrum more
than one would like. The orchestra, true to Parisian custom,
is a temperamental beast, sometimes playing with highly mercurial
effectiveness and then suddenly slumping to the depths, though
to be fair such an event is a rarity and more of that Janáček
disaster later. Still, these are rare opportunities to hear
Horenstein in Paris and not to be spurned lightly.
Concerto with Monique Haas suffers from occasional orchestral
impressions but is otherwise a strongly effective reading, the
slow movement unfolded with sensitivity but sufficient spine.
Tumultuous applause greets the end of Bolero. Beethoven’s
First Symphony is a fiery and trenchant occasion in Horenstein’s
hands. The slow movement is aptly flowing and the finale gutsy
– pungent tuttis included. The Seventh Symphony (1966) is rugged
and determined with the Allegretto taken at a fine clip. If
the finale opens with rather over-military gestures Horenstein
is saving his powder for the rousing closing moments. The Eighth
Symphony performance dates from the beginning of the sequence
of broadcasts – 1952 – and receives a reading of unusually tense
and big boned power. There’s a performance of the Ninth from
October 1963 and to be heard in decent sound. The soloists are
all in good though not outstanding form and Horenstein’s fluid,
accelerando-driven first movement brings its own excitement
levels. Music and Arts has also put out a Monteux Ninth from
Paris in 1958 which is altogether less prone to tempo extremes.
The Roussel, given at the same concert as the Beethoven
Seventh, is evocative and sensitively done.
The French accent
meted out to Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra gives the
performance an individualism lacking in more cosmopolitan readings.
There’s a rugged, sometimes ragged power here and the winds’s
vibrato gives things a throaty context. Horenstein drives far
into the expressive hinterland of the Concerto – a fine reading.
Horenstein is better known for his Nielsen than for his Sibelius
but the latter’s Second Symphony is here. This takes time to
warm up and does keep hanging fire even so but tension is whipped
up in the climaxes. One might expect a Parisian orchestra to
be au fait with the Firebird. Horenstein was clearly a splendid
Stravinsky conductor bringing great warmth to the Ronde
des princesses and reserves of incision to the Berceuse.
The wide vibratos of the wind players make their presence
very audible throughout this charismatic reading. The Symphony
in Three Movements is both excellently projected and tremendously
insightful. Horenstein doesn’t stint elegant phrasing but nor
does he undersell the rhythmic drive. Cogent impetus drives
The occasional limitation
of some of Horenstein’s performances is a quality of unevenness
within a work and sometimes between movements. Debussy is
represented by La Mer and this oscillates between these points
– a touch heavy handed in places but with powerful and surging
climaxes. Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony is brisk but
not unyielding. The no-nonsense drive extends to a biting Saltarello.
Brahms’s First Symphony is powerful though is prone to
poor horn intonation and to rhythmic sagging in the finale.
Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder features Marian
Anderson. Her voice is richly communicative and her instincts
are, as ever, thoroughly sympathetic but the performance is
sabotaged by her constant pitching problems. Turning to the
1961 performance of Strauss’s Metamorphosen is to hear
Horenstein in a full flood of expressive commitment. This grave
and yet beautifully balanced reading is one of the highlights
of the set.
Sinfonietta is a bit of a disaster all round. Brass intonation
is often non-existent; the playing is cartoonishly slow in places
and often downright chaotic. Best to pass on. Haydn’s
Military Symphony is fresh and imperial and full of controlled
verve – a decisive and exciting example of Horenstein’s way
with this kind of repertory. Lola Bobesco appears in the Barber
Violin Concerto in a concert given in November 1950 – which,
if true, means that the box’s coverage extends back by two years.
In any case this is a terrific performance – fiery, passionate,
full of colour, expressive devices and Bobesco’s wholehearted
command. Then there’s Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony which
is, in these hands, profoundly Mahlerian with driving and brazen
moments balanced by paragraphs of grace in the string moulding.
So for all the relative
demerits this is a most valuable set. It collates important
repertoire and allows one to hear a mass of performances, with
the same orchestra, delivered over a significant period of years.
Joel Lazar’s notes make for insightful reading. The box itself
offers plenty of food for thought regarding the breadth and
depth of Horenstein’s musical affiliations.