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Horenstein in Gothenburg - Volume 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Idomeneo – Overture [5:48]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 22 [23:13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No 9 in C major, D944 ‘Great’ [50:23]
Philippe Entremont (piano)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. live 9 October, 1969, Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden
Mono/Ambient stereo

This is the first of four releases in which Pristine Audio will document three guest conducting visits that Jascha Horenstein paid to Gothenburg in 1968 and 1969. The orchestra was founded in 1905 and in his note accompanying this release Misha Horenstein mentions that when his cousin was invited to conduct it, the orchestra had been “recently expanded”. I don’t know precisely when this expansion happened but I wonder if it coincided with the appointment of Sergiu Comissiona as Principal Conductor (1967-73). It appears that Jascha Horenstein was specifically asked to choose programmes that would stretch the orchestra, particularly its brass section.

All of Horenstein’s Gothenburg performances come to us from the archive of Misha Horenstein. Andrew Rose revealed in one of his weekly newsletters that he had wanted to issue these performances for some time but had been unable to establish whose permission would be required under European copyright law. Recently, it was discovered that none of these recordings had ever been broadcast or issued in any form so any copyright restrictions fell away after 50 years. So, the way was clear for all these performances from 1968 and 1969 to come into the public domain and that’s happened with the benefit of Pristine’s XR remastering.

Though issued as Volume 1, the present release in fact preserves Horenstein’s last appearance in Gothenburg and we get the complete concert. He opened proceedings with Mozart’s Idomeneo Overture. Misha Horenstein comments that the music is played “with solemn reverence and in a style now considered out of fashion”. I know exactly what he means: it is “old school” big band Mozart. However, as far as I’m concerned, good and thoroughly musical Mozart performances should never go out of fashion, and this is one such performance. The performance is darkly dramatic but that doesn’t preclude some crisp string and woodwind playing.

The French pianist Philippe Entremont (b.1934) joined the orchestra for the Saint-SaŽns concerto. He commands attention in the opening cadenza, which leads into a very good performance of the Andante sostenuto first movement – opening a concerto with the slow movement was quite an innovation by Saint-SaŽns. Entremont exhibits fine pianism in this movement and receives very good orchestral support. The second movement, Allegro scherzando, is carefree and scampering and the present lively performance does it full justice. The sound seems a little congested at the opening of the Presto finale but this is a momentary inconvenience and in no way did it hamper my enjoyment of the spirited and energetic performance that follows. Entremont’s playing is full of virtuosity, especially in the whirlwind conclusion. This concerto isn’t repertoire with which I’d normally associate Jascha Horenstein but he directs a sparkling performance, giving splendid support to his excellent soloist. I enjoyed this performance very much.

Like the other works on this disc, Schubert’s Ninth symphony is new to Jascha Horenstein’s discography. As you might infer from the total timing, Horenstein is economical with repeats – the first movement exposition repeat is not taken, for instance. But unless you insist on hearing every single repeat, there’s a great deal to admire in the performance. Horenstein takes the first movement introduction quite steadily, shaping the music nicely. I like the clarity he brings to all strands of the orchestration: for example, there’s good but not exaggerated “visibility” of the important trombone parts. Unlike some conductors, Horenstein doesn’t accelerate into the Allegro, ma non troppo; instead, the new tempo bursts forth in an exhilarating way. The Allegro is rhythmically taut; indeed, it’s noticeable how steady Horenstein keeps the pulse. That’s not to say that the performance is at all rigid; rather, one has the impression of a very clear-eyed approach. In terms of its consistency of pulse and clarity of texture the performance might be described as ‘Classical’; there’s no anachronistic romanticism here. The climaxes are strong, with the trombones nicely ‘present’. The Presto coda is kept on a tight rein.

Rather disconcertingly, the second movement begins more or less attacca. Was this how it was in performance or is that how it was preserved on the tape? Horenstein’s Andante con moto tempo is brisk; indeed, I struggle to remember hearing the movement taken as swiftly as this, even in a HIP performance. The speed is a bit of a surprise but I found that I soon adjusted and I liked the alert playing of the woodwind section in particular. I think there’s more rigour than grace in the performance but in saying that I wouldn’t wish to imply that the music-making lacks polish or empathy. The climax is strongly projected and one thing I liked in that episode is that Horenstein ensures that the horns, trumpets and trombones are easily distinguishable from each other, but in a very natural way. Immediately after the climax Horenstein briefly takes a slow and expressive approach before resuming his brisk core tempo.

The Scherzo is energetic and both phrasing and dynamics are well-shaped. I like Horenstein’s way with the Trio, to which he imparts a very nice lilt. The opening of the finale is like a call to arms. This heralds a fine, high-energy performance. As has been the case throughout – and especially in the first movement – Horenstein is again rigorous in his control of pulse and rhythm. Just as consistent is the way in which he obtains excellent clarity from and within all sections of the orchestra. Speaking of the performance as a whole, Misha Horenstein praises the “alert, highly-engaged Gothenburg orchestra”, and he’s right to do so. They follow Jascha Horenstein’s bidding throughout and an excellent and very interesting performance results. I’m very glad indeed that we now have a recorded performance of Schubert’s biggest symphony by this fine conductor.

The sound throughout the disc is fully acceptable. The piano is well to the fore in the concerto but the orchestra certainly isn’t obscured. Andrew Rose had done a fine job in remastering these mono recordings, which are now presented in Pristine’s Ambient Stereo. As usual, the package includes an authoritative note by Misha Horenstein, from whose archive the recordings are taken.

As I said at the outset, this mini-series will encompass four volumes. The other releases, all of which I hope to review, include a 1969 Mahler Fifth (volume 2), Bruckner’s Sixth from 1968 (Vol 3) and Mahler’s Fourth, also from 1968. Horenstein devotees should also note that Pristine offer all four volumes as a set at a slightly discounted price (PABX034). This disc has whetted my appetite to hear more of Jascha Horenstein’s work in Gothenburg.

John Quinn

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