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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D minor Op. 25 ‘Classical’ (1916-7) [13:22]
Suite from Chout (The Buffoon) Op. 21a (1920) [37:35]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat Op. 100 (1944) [39:23]
Suite from Lieutenant Kijé Op. 60 (1934) [19:06]
Concerts Colonne Orchestra / Jascha Horenstein
rec. 7-14 November 1954, Maison de la Mutualité, Paris
PRISTINE PASC538 [2 CDs: 1:49:24]

Although now probably best remembered for his Bruckner and Mahler, Horenstein conducted a very wide repertoire and here we find him at home in the very different world of Prokofiev. He had in fact been conducting his music since the 1930s and must have heard Russian performances during his visits to the Soviet Union in those years. This two-disc set of studio recordings comes from his time with Vox in the early 1950s.

We begin with a sizzling performance of the Classical Symphony. This is usually, and understandably, presented simply as a charmer, but Horenstein takes a slightly more serious view of it, and the brass dissonances come with a real punch. The original review of this in Gramophone magazine judged it the equal of Malko’s well-known version of the same period and I would agree with that.

Then we have the suite from the ballet Chout (The Buffoon). This I found rather disappointing. It is perfectly accurate but slightly too slow and cautious and so loses the wit and sparkle essential to this score. More recent recordings by Neeme Järvi, of the suite, and by Michail Jurowski, of the complete ballet, show how it should be done. This is the only time Horenstein performed the work, and it was also its first recording. It could have done with extra rehearsal – but Vox notoriously did not like paying for that.

The performance of the great fifth symphony is quite different. This is usually regarded as a compromising work, in which Prokofiev managed to please both the Soviet authorities and himself. Horenstein, however, brings out its modernistic affiliations, looking back to the composer’s European period and some of his most aggressive works. The atmosphere of mystery and suspense at the opening is superbly captured and the big climaxes are quite overwhelming. The scherzo is fast and fierce and also accurate, with the pungent tones of the French woodwind and the barking of the brass a particular joy. The slow movement, which can drag, is kept moving. And the finale is appropriately mercurial and light on its feet. The orchestral playing is bold and confident; Horenstein knows the work well and chooses to give a forceful performance of the kind Mravinsky gave, though I doubt whether he ever heard Mravinsky in this work.

Finally, we have the Lieutenant Kijé suite, some light relief after the symphony. The bold colours and brilliant wit are well captured, thanks to nimble playing and an especially mellifluous saxophone.

The last time these performances were reissued seems to have been in 2001 in a Vox Legends set where the transfers were considered not well done (review). No complaints this time about Andrew Rose’s remastering. Of course, the mono sound is of its time and rather congested and some instruments, such as the cor anglais and the important orchestral piano part in the symphony, have a tendency to get lost. But none of this should put off the collector. Now please can we have Horenstein’s BBC recordings of Busoni?

Stephen Barber

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