It is a delight to welcome this fascinating
and rewarding disc. Boris Blacher’s cause has been sporadically
championed of late, but it is high time for a more comprehensive
appraisal of this elusive composer.
Blacher was born in Manchuria, China in 1903
to German parents. He went to Berlin when he was nineteen, studying
composition with Friedrich Koch. With the support of the conductor
Karl Böhm, he gained a teaching position at the Dresden Conservatory
in 1938: as a teacher, his influence was to extend far and wide.
During the course of his teaching career, his pupils included
Gottfried von Einem and Aribert Reimann (both while he later taught
in Berlin). In 1947, Blacher’s Orchestral Variations on a Theme
of Paganini brought him the fame he deserved.
The pieces on the present disc date from 1931
(his Op. 3) to the string quartet fragment of 1975, a Lento which
was intended to form part of a Sixth Quartet. On one level, then,
this CD acts as a vocal/chamber survey, revealing many touches
of fertile invention. It also acts as a musically gripping entity
in its own right, with all of the performers seemingly giving
their all for this music.
Of these performers, it is probably the name
of Stella Doufexis that will ring the most bells. Indeed, she
appears on the majority of featured works: Op. 25; Op. 57; Francesca
da Rimini, Ungerreimtes (with Yaron Windmüller)
and Nebel. Doufexis studied Lied interpretation
with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Aribert Reimann. She enjoys
an international career, touring and recording a wide repertoire.
On Orfeo alone, she has recorded Webern (C411951A), Dessau (C435001A)
and Fortner (C433971A). She has worked with Graham Johnson on
Hyperion (CDJ33104), and also appears with Christine Schäfer
and Irwin Gage on DG’s disc of Debussy and Chausson Mélodies,
459 682-2. It is good, therefore, that she gets the disc off to
the best possible start in the Vier Lieder nach Texten von
Friedrich Wolf, Op. 25. All four songs are superbly characterised.
The first, with its dancing, atonal piano writing (pianist Axel
Bauni is superb throughout) is an exciting introduction to the
world of Blacher’s vocal music, and a sense of fun shines through.
Doufexis is simply stunning throughout, no matter what she touches.
The way she revels in the sparse beauty of the exposed vocal line
of Op. 57 No. 1 (‘Gedicht’) is superb, and she follows the twists
and turns of the phrases beautifully.
Francesca da Rimini (without opus number)
of 1954 is a setting of Dante for voice and violin. Kolja Blacher,
the composer’s son who in 1993 was appointed the youngest concertmaster
of the Berlin Philharmonic in that venerable ensemble’s history,
projects his part well. This is spare and lovely music and represents
one of the highlights of this disc. Doufexis is so pure of tone
sometimes as to appear other-worldly. These seven minutes are
worth the price of the disc alone.
Doufexis’s diction is exemplary in everything
she sings, a description that could also be applied to Yaron Windmüller’s
account of the Drei Psalmen of 1943. Blacher seemed particularly
inspired by these Biblical texts. The second, for example, sees
Blacher mirroring the meaning of the first line perfectly: an
even flow set against a jerky, ejaculatory figure projecting the
impatience of the line, ‘Herr, ich rufe zu dir; eile zu mir’ (‘O
Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me’). Windmüller is
particularly impassioned in these songs, which emerge as true,
heart-felt mystic statements.
Variety is provided by the various scorings used.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is for tenor (Christopher
Lincoln) and string quartet, the latter most imaginatively used.
Parts of this piece, interestingly, are reminiscent of Britten.
The Sonata for Solo Violin provides the purely instrumental
‘respite’. Kolja Blacher gives a superb, intense account. The
slow movement includes an expressive melody over a left-hand pizzicato
accompaniment; the finale’s difficulties are tossed off. This
is one of the first works, incidentally, in which Blacher consistently
applied his idea of variable metres (i.e. with the time signature
changing virtually every bar).
For comedic value, Orfeo have included Ungereimtes,
a selection of children’s rhymes set to music. Doufexis and Windmüller
bring gentle wit to this performance. Balancing this is the Petersen
Quartet’s account of the Lento for string quartet mentioned above.
It certainly has the air of a fragment about it. It is diffuse,
transitory in nature, full of col legno effects. It leaves
the disc hanging in the air (Blacher died one day after completing
this), and it leaves this listener wanting to know more.
It is just a pity that not all texts are translated
in the booklet. I can only assume this is for copyright reasons,
but it is a real shame in a product that is otherwise so well-presented.