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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No 9 in E minor, Op 95 From the New World (1893) [44:39]
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
Radio announcement [0:41]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Taras Bulba, Rhapsody for large orchestra (1915-18) [23:21]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. 4-6 April 1952, Symphonia Studio, Vienna (Dvořák); live, 30 August 1961, Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Janáček)
Ambient stereo

This is the outcome of another superb re-mastering assignment by Andrew Rose at Pristine. Listening to the nigh on seventy-year old Dvořák one would be convinced that this was a stereo recording from the mid-1960s. It also has the effect of making the Vienna Symphony Orchestra sound like a world-class band. Perhaps in 1952 there was less difference between them and the Vienna Philharmonic who weren’t enjoying their greatest period.

I was delighted when I received this CD to review for two main reasons. Firstly, the Dvořák was the first major orchestral work that I heard live in concert. That was at the age of 12 in Oxford with the BBCSO under Sir Malcolm Sargent in 1966; perhaps a tape exists? Secondly, the more that I hear from Jascha Horenstein, the more I appreciate his very special qualities. His cousin Mischa and Pristine are doing a great deal to extend his recorded legacy from private recordings and the re-mastering of originally fairly dim first issue LPs. I enjoyed two of the Gothenburg Mahlers (4 review; 5 review) very much and hope to have the opportunity to hear more.

Horenstein regarded the “New World” as his calling card and it’s unsurprising that it was chosen as his first recording for Vox. It was a busy fortnight with sessions for Mahler 9 and Shostakovich 5 in less than two weeks. He clearly had a vision for this symphony. As in the two Gothenburg performances that I’ve heard, he conveys the impression of an orchestra discovering the music whilst simultaneously rendering it in a highly competent and exciting manner. Highlights are the lithe first movement which always seems like the opening of a discovery. The strings are very fluent and as in the whole performance had me thinking it was the VPO. This in turn stirred memories of that staggering performance under Kirill Kondrashin (Decca) that for many was the CD that illustrated the work’s potential. For the Horenstein, Andrew Rose has successfully introduced Ambient Stereo but this can only work if the original recording has the detail; that it clearly had. With the famous Largo, Horenstein achieves a hymn-like quality which avoids sentimentally; the cor anglais is suitably reedy and beautifully captured.

The third movement Scherzo starts with some chirping woodwind before the emphatic strings, brass and emphatic percussion explode. I can relate to what John Quinn felt uneasy about in the changes of tempo. These, I felt, were more than “subtle gear changes” as Tony Duggan described them in his review of a Vox release of the symphony a couple of decades ago. They were like a fly landing on one’s arm on a hot day; a minor irritation but not enough to detract from the charm of the waltz tune. It was this movement that attracted me to the work all those years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it here; you are clearly hearing a Viennese orchestra and the French horns are reminiscent of the Dvořák Eighth. The cymbal is struck with a stick which I don’t think I’ve heard before; did Horenstein get the idea from his famous Bruckner performances? The final movement struck me as a complete success and is very fresh, which is remarkable for a recording nearly seventy years old. It’s when one hears what has been achieved that one yearns for more recent recordings to be similarly re-mastered. I know I’m not alone in hoping for this.

It’s interesting that the original coupling on Vox was Janáček’s Sinfonietta which Tony Duggan described as less successful. Here Pristine present us with a committed performance which gained approval from John Quinn. It’s not a work that I’m very familiar with, but I thought it well performed considering Horenstein was substituting for Czech expert Rafael Kubelik and that the music wasn’t part of the BPO’s standard repertoire. What is priceless, for me, was to hear the BBC announcer which brought back memories of hearing concerts on the Third Programme with my late father on a bakelite wireless set.

In the days of LP and indeed the early years of CD, Dvořák 9 would have been on its own and we’d have been happy. To have this splendid re-mastering of a very strong performance plus the live Janáček is great value. I look forward to the opportunity to hearing more Horenstein on Pristine.

David R Dunsmore

Previous reviews: Paul Serotsky ~ John Quinn

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