Don Juan, Op.20
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded live by Radio Suisse Romande on 8 September 1966 at the September Montreux Festival
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2004
CD No: SOMM CÉLESTE SOMMCD 037
Duration: 59 minutes
Kiev-born Jascha Horenstein (1898-1973) focussed on music’s core, its length and line, and did so with innate intensity. His long-viewed conviction overcame unreliable execution, something amply demonstrated here. Although the Czech Philharmonic is, here, prone to faltering, the music-making itself always alive and communicative.
Recorded in honest stereo, good broadcast sound, Geoffrey Addis’s re-mastering avoids over-digitalising timbres; it means that bass and pianissimo passages are not compromised and that woodwinds are not ‘watery’. Either the source or the re-mastering removes applause.
Both performances are of rugged integrity. Don Juan begins none too well, though, Horenstein reducing the impact of the flamboyant opening through poor timing and over-emphasis, and the timpani flourish is rushed. Things settle, and while there can be a lack of exuberance, the love-related music is warmly phrased and sounded, and one gets caught up in the certainty of Horenstein’s conducting; he perceives the work as more than a romping showpiece.
Horenstein unfolds the first movement of the Brahms with leisure but without torpor. He eschews the exposition repeat (but was to observe it with the Danish Radio Symphony a few years later, a performance issued on LP by Unicorn). Horenstein’s initial understatement leads to a restless development and a severe coda. The slow movement is intensely moving, maybe the highlight of the performance, and the intermezzo that follows, while quite strict, has a beguiling lightness of touch. The finale, measured and unforced, proves a very satisfying conclusion. Endeavour outweighs fallibility and Brahms wins through.
Anyone only interested in big names and glossy performances won’t appreciate the ‘need’ for this release; however, anyone responding to penetrating musicianship, warts and all, will be well rewarded.