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Alexander BLECHINGER (b. 1956)
Violin Concerto Op. 87 (1987)
Piano Concerto Op. 35 ¹ (1995)
Elisabeth Jess-Kropfitsch, violin
Igo Koch, piano¹
Philharmonie Bohuslav Martinů/Paul Polivnick

ORF-Symphonieorchester ¹/Paul Polivnick
Recorded in the Konzertsaal, Zlina, Czech Republic January 31st and February 1st 1997, and in the ORF Grosser Sendesaal 1987 ¹.
ANTES EDITION BM CD 31.9102 [53.09]

 

I have previously reviewed another of Alexander Blechinger's discs on the Antes Edition imprint and what I reported then, that his music is both entertaining and accessible, also holds true here.

In its first movement, the Violin Concerto manages to combine easy-going Latin American rhythms with more overtly European melodic material. This includes some martial and some more folk-derived pentatonic themes, although the spirit of the dance lies at its heart. I was even reminded somewhat of Jacob Gade's famous Jalousy. The predominantly slow(ish) second movement wears its musical heart on its sleeve and is more clearly related to a late-romantic Mitteleuropa sensibility than its predecessor. Whatever, it contrasts strongly and effectively with the final Allegro, which cleverly juxtaposes some quite classically restrained passages, which put me in mind of Beethoven and even, occasionally, Bach, and of some charming and tender dances derived from more popular and folk sources. The violin soloist neither outdoes nor is outdone by the orchestra and the piece really doesn't come into the "warhorse" category at all. Blechinger clearly loves and respects the various historical musical lineages he draws upon and the craftsmanship of the music is always self-evident. One touchstone that seems to be regularly invoked, alongside the obvious more local Viennese and Austrian influences, is that of American 20th century music (Gershwin, Bernstein and the Afro-American contingent, rather than that of Ives or Harris, although I would include emigré composers like Korngold too, as possible reference points, even our own Richard Rodney Bennett, with his jazz/filmic hat on!).

The Piano Concerto was recorded ten years before the Violin Concerto but happily the sound quality on this disc as a whole is much more consistent (in the positive sense!) than that on my previous review item for this composer. Although at times more austere than the first piece on the disc, the Piano Concerto is just as indebted to jazz and popular inspirations. It is also more given to displaying the virtuoso side of the instrument and instrumentalist but there are many poignant and quite beautiful moments, especially the "song-like, lyrical interlude" in the second movement, with some lovely oboe work. If the Johns Barry and Rutter co-wrote the score to a biopic of Gerald Finzi (wishful thinking, on all counts!), it might sound something like this. This movement is quite possibly Blechinger's finest ten minutes, at least from the point of view of this listener's limited exposure. The third movement is then introduced by a pizzicato double bass and shuffling percussion and we are back in deep, composed jazz territory until the pianist reasserts himself and reintroduces a melodic content which is totally typical of this composer and a great strength of his. I believe there is something here for anyone who cares to listen, at the very least a genuine joy in what is, above all, a communicative music.

Aficionados of the recent Brubeck "classical" releases (on Telarc and Naxos) should definitely investigate and, in terms of uplifting modern piano concerti, if you like this one then why not try the marvellous, Norwegian folk-based Groven (Simax) or Pelécis' little neo-classical gem (Erato/Apex). As Milan Kundera wrote at length about, in his most famous novel, a full and fulfilling life is, by turns, heavy and light - in the car, in France, this summer, my two young children, Rebekah and Joel, have been listening to classical music but also the Breton bagadoùs, The Beatles and Kraftwerk - I would like to think, in fact I am sure, that Alex Blechinger would approve.

Neil Horner



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