Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3,
Symphony No. 5
Jascha Horenstein, cond.; Alexandra Browning (sop); Colin Wheatley (bar); BBC Northern SO
BBC LEGENDS 4249, mono (75:25) Live: Manchester 10/30/1970;
Robert Simpson talks about Horenstein
Robert Simpson makes some telling points here about this conductor’s caring attention to detail when it came to people as well as to music. He was speaking in the wake of Horenstein’s death, in 1973, but somewhere in that decade, a world died too. The latest BBC Music CD of Horenstein performances (in mono, with applause) helps bring some part of that world back to life. In October 1970, the conductor was touring chilly provincial cities in the north of England—Friday night with Nielsen in Manchester, then up and over the Pennine Hills to Sheffield, for Sibelius on Saturday.
Thanks to sure pacing from Horenstein, and no thanks to occasional slips from the BBC players (the brass at the very start of the Sibelius for example), these versions are worth your un-nostalgic attention. There’s nothing spectacular or original about this Sibelius Fifth, but the conductor makes plain sailing of passages and transitions where others find heavy weather. The rewards are in the details and the transparent textures; the endings of the outer movements aren’t as exciting as some, but I liked the Andante and the expectant opening of the final Allegro. The ending works pretty well, humane and not Brucknerian, and the Sheffield audience members go nuts. Ormandy, Bernstein, Karajan, Koussevitzky: so many interesting Fifths. Horenstein adds a quiet, coherent intensity of his own, but it’s still a reading for specialists.
Nielsen is more familiar Horenstein territory, thanks to the commercial recordings, and this is a fine Third. Simpson reminds us in his talk that this conductor worked directly with the Danish composer, and the special sympathy shows in the Andante pastorale. I like Bernstein and Chung in this symphony, but Horenstein gets closer to the quiet mysteries than either of them. The hushed atmosphere of the Andante carries over into the Allegretto, which many take slightly too fast. Not Horenstein, who evokes the spirit of his great Mahler Third recording, emphasizing the strength and the poetry rather than the quirks. Hence, the Allegretto does not second-guess the resplendent Finale. This was not the world’s best orchestra at the time, and there are a few tentative moments in the first Allegro, yet this is a truly major account of a great, life-enhancing score.
Fine notes as usual from Horenstein’s ex-assistant, the distinguished conductor Joel Lazar. Recommended.
FANFARE: Paul Ingram
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3, Op. 27 "Sinfonia espansiva" by Carl Nielsen
Alexandra Browning (Soprano),
Colin Wheatley (Baritone)
BBC Northern Symphony
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1910-1911; Denmark
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