HORENSTEIN Beethoven: Eroica Symphony, Overtures (1953/57) - PASC505

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HORENSTEIN Beethoven: Eroica Symphony, Overtures (1953/57) - PASC505

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BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 3
BEETHOVEN The Creatures of Prometheus Overture
BEETHOVEN Consecration of the House Overture

Recorded in 1953 and in stereo in 1957
Total duration:  66:20 

Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio (SWDR)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Jascha Horenstein

This set contains the following albums:

These recordings, drawn from the archive of Misha Horenstein, date from a time when sound recording was undergoing a revolution - tape, the long playing vinyl record, the introduction of stereo, all were redefining high fidelity recording and reproduction. Some producers, engineers and record companies fared better than others and in some cases generally good recordings were marred by poor tonal balance. Here I've tried to redress that balance using XR remastering which, whilst it cannot fix everything, has proved here capable of making massive improvements to the sound quality, something that will add hugely to the enjoyment and appreciation of these excellent performances.  

Andrew Rose

BEETHOVEN Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op.43*  (5:19)

BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, 'Eroica'

2  1st mvt. - Allegro con brio  (15:20)
3  2nd mvt. - Marcia funebre. Adagio assai  (15:22)
4  3rd mvt. - Scherzo. Allegro vivace  (6:09)
5  4th mvt. - Finale. Allegro molto  (13:11)

BEETHOVEN Die Weihe des Hauses, Op.124*  (10:59)

Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio (SWDR)
*Vienna Symphony Orchestra

Jascha Horenstein
, conductor

XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Jascha Horenstein

Creatures of Prometheus
Recorded 1953, Vienna
Issued on Vox PL8020

Symphony No. 3
Recorded May 1957, Loffenau
Issued on Vox STPL10.700

Consecration of the House
Recorded 1953, Vienna
Issued on Vox PL10410

Total duration:  66:20

Horenstein's 1957 Eroica

This version of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony was Horenstein's second recording of the work for Vox in the space of four years. He first recorded it with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1953, released later on a well-regarded LP that sold reasonably well. His decision, therefore, to re-record the work after so short a time seems strange given the availability of many distinguished competitive versions and the fact that so much of Horenstein's enormous repertoire still remained unrepresented on record. As the only work he recorded twice for Vox, it is legitimate to ask what motivated him to add a second version of this symphony to his still limited catalog of recordings. A comparison of the two performances reveals why; it has nothing to do with the introduction of stereo in the mid-1950s and everything to do with a radically new conception of the piece. Whereas in 1953 his massively conceived interpretation, one that Deryck Cooke described as "so super-titanic as to be unbelievable", reflected the aesthetic and traditions of a previous era, his 1957 stereo remake presented a much lighter, more modern, fleet-footed, classical vision of the work, employing leaner textures with a stronger rhythmic pulse and aided by timings that shaved almost four minutes off the first two movements in comparison to his effort in 1953. It seems unusual for a conductor of almost sixty, who had directed the symphony dozens of times before, to so drastically revise his view of a classic work like the "Eroica" in so short a space of time, yet the evidence from two very different performances, recorded within four years of each other, is there for all to hear. This was not a momentary flash of inspiration as sometimes happened with Furtwängler but a deeply considered, fresh look at one of his favorite pieces of music.

It is my conviction that the change occurred as a result of Horenstein's research into period performance practice while preparing for his original instrument recording in 1954 of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (see Pristine PASC468). This project appears to have completely transformed his approach to the interpretation of music of the early nineteenth century, from one heavily influenced by the old German tradition to one that anticipated the practices of the modern, "historically informed" performances not only of Baroque but also of early Romantic music, as this fine recording of the "Eroica" Symphony amply demonstrates.

Misha Horenstein

Three years ago, as many will remember, Horenstein and Vox stole a march on everybody by offering Beethoven's Choral Symphony, in a thrilling performance and an adequate recording, at half the normal price, and here they are at it again. The only competitor with their new Eroica in the sphere of economy, is Kleiber's version in Decca's Ace of Clubs series.

Horenstein fulfils his part of the bargain magnificently, and is well backed by an orchestra whose only weakness is a shrill first oboe. His present performance is quite different from the one he recorded for Vox in 1954; that was so super-titantic as to be unbelievable, but this is a beautifully classical interpretation, spacious and deeply felt, but strictly life-size. There are all the qualities here that one looks for in the Eroica—not only a splendid line but a tense rhythmic impulse; not only a savage strength but a sense of mystery—achieved by that rare thing in performances of this work, a real pianissimo. In the first movement, Horenstein pulls off a feat only previously achieved on disc, to my knowledge, by Van Kempen on a since-deleted Philips record: he preserves unswervingly a single tempo which lies nicely between the extremes of hustle and drag. In the absence of all those familiar changes of speed, this Allegro con brio emerges as what it really is— the most perfectly unified large-scale first movement Beethoven ever composed. The strongly rhythmic approach to the Adagio threw new light on it for me: I had never before been so conscious that it is, after all, a march, with all the awe-inspiring solemnity that a tramping slow march-rhythm conveys. An unusual and convincing feature is that the return to the main tempo, after the inevitable quickening in the fugal section, is effected by a rallentando during the restatement of the main theme, not by the usual gear-change when the music reaches E flat. The scherzo, like the first movement, steers surely between extremes of tempo, achieving both weight and drive, and in consequence, the Trio moves easily at the same speed (though there is one bad bit of ensemble). Unity of tempo is also the fulcrum of the finale, which is taken deliberately enough to allow it to counterbalance the weight of the rest of the symphony. This is done without any loss of vitality and without any bombast when the horns give out their slow fortissimo statement of the main theme. Some may find the very measured opening and the non-committal statement of the theme and first variation unacceptable, but this seems to me exactly the right treatment of what is in fact the bare ground-plan of the whole movement; it certainly removes that slightly comical oompah element from the wind and string antiphonies in the theme.

It's a pity that Vox can't do something about their engineering, though. This is one of their better recordings, by fits and starts—the sound is mainly clear and firm, if not of the highest quality, but it's difficult to understand why the level is so low in places, and why the wind suddenly rush into the foreground when they are playing on their own. My pressing has a bad surface at the beginning of the Scherzo, which doesn't clear until the first fortissimo.

Deryck Cooke, The Gramophone, April 1960

Fanfare Review

Just about as close to heaven as music ever gets. Highly recommended

As the present disc is an XR remastering from Pristine Audio, many collectors will focus on its sound quality. The first thing to note is that the opening two chords of The Creatures of Prometheus Overture are not here. Andrew Rose of Pristine says that the reissue LP he used as source material, from the collection of Misha Horenstein, omits the two chords. Rose as of yet has not secured a copy of the premiere release for comparison. He speculates that either Horenstein did not play those two chords, or that somewhere along the line Vox Records lost them. Be that as it may, Rose has given us beautifully balanced and tonally luscious 1953 monaural sound for the Overture, which I find enjoyable even with the omission.

The 1957 “Eroica” is in stereo. Rose used as source material a Vox Records LP. I have this same recording on a Turnabout reissue from the 1970s. That is a fine-sounding LP, and I regret that Rose did not have it to work from. I would say that the Turnabout LP has better tonal quality than Pristine’s reissue, while the latter is superior in instrumental definition and overall atmosphere. One thing Rose could not correct is the position of the woodwinds in the stereo mix. Sometimes they are in the left channel, while at other times they are just right of center. Apparently the recording producer did not pay attention to this from take to take. The monaural sound for the 1953 Consecration of the House Overture has considerable timbral beauty. There is a notable echo at times, but it does not detract from the listener’s enjoyment.

When I met George Mendelssohn Bartholdy, the founder of Vox Records, in 1979, the four conductors he talked to me about were Klemperer, Solti, Bernstein, and Maazel. I wonder if he felt that Horenstein was not of their caliber. Certainly the performances on this disc are by a major Beethoven conductor. His “Eroica” is judiciously paced, without eccentricities. The Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio at this time was Hans Rosbaud’s ensemble, so it is not surprising to find that it is superlatively drilled and highly responsive. Horenstein makes much of the play of light and shade, with careful terracing of dynamics. The exposition repeat in the first movement is omitted, as was typical at this time. The drama of this movement builds naturally and organically. The funeral march is wonderfully soulful, with playing that at times is sepulchrally hushed and at other times rich and sonorous. One really can feel the sense of loss from the hero’s point of view. The Scherzo is exciting, with old-fashioned, woolly German horns in the trio. The tempos in the Finale are leisurely, as Horenstein concentrates on bringing out all the inner voices. There is no feeling of pushing and pulling, and the symphony’s climax appears as though it were obvious from the composition’s very first notes.

The two overtures benefit greatly from the warm and rounded sound of the Vienna Symphony. Circa 1953, this orchestra made recordings with varying degrees of concern for ensemble, so the credit for what Horenstein achieves with them must be due to the conductor. The Creatures of Prometheus Overture trips along with appropriate, enthusiastic balletic grace, while The Consecration of the House is the best performance I’ve ever heard; its tempo relationships are brilliantly judged, and its phrasing is oh, so elegant. Horenstein aficionados will want this CD, but I also believe that Beethoven lovers of all stripes will enjoy it. It’s just about as close to heaven as music ever gets. Highly recommended.

Dave Saemann

This article originally appeared in Issue 41:2 (Nov/Dec 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.