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Isidor ACHRON (1891-1948)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor (1937) [16:35]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major (1940) [24:09]
Lazar SAMINSKY (1882-1959)
The Vow: Rhapsodic Variations on a Dual Theme for piano and orchestra (1917-43) [11:32]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Helvetia - The Land of Mountains and its People (1900-29) [20:55]
Barry Goldsmith (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Amos
rec. 14-16 August 2003, Glasgow Concert Hall. DDD


This is a classic David Amos project: three composers and four totally unknown or at least unplayed works. If we must find a common thread then note that all three composers ended their days in the USA.

The two compact piano concertos by Isidor Achron are rare fare. Achron is best known as half of the famed Heifetz-Achron duo. Their friendship lasted many years - the years of glittering prizes and celebrity. Before that Isidor has studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory with Liadov and Steinberg. By the way Joseph Achron whose orchestral music has been recorded as part of the Milken Naxos series (see review) was Isidor's older brother .

The single movement First Piano Concerto was premiered by the composer with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937 at Carnegie Hall. It’s a grandiloquent piece torn emotionally between torment, tragedy and triumph. The music is broadly in the constituencies of Rachmaninov and Medtner. In 1940 the same artists gave the first performance of the three movement Second Piano Concerto.  This is in much the same stonily romantic idiom as the First Concerto. After a hectoring and almost over-insistent and melodramatic first movement we get an Allegro Religoso which pours a slow-flowing balm to establish a slightly clouded peace. There’s then a rhetorical Allegro which uses material form the first movement. It is not perhaps as inventive as the First Concerto but the quick-yearning Tchaikovskian sighs at 6:23 are superbly done and the piece ends in majestic spirits.

Lazar Saminsky is hardly known at all these days. He was born near Odessa, studied with Rimsky and Liadov in St Petersburg, was a leading light in the musical life of Tiflis until 1918 and then surfaced in Paris in 1920.  He moved to the USA and there became a major player in the music industry of New York. He wrote various operas and opera-ballets. He died in Port Chester, New York. There are five symphonies: 1. Of the Rivers (1914); 2. Of the Summits (1918); 3. Of the Seas (1924); 4. (1927); 5. City of Solomon and Christ for chorus and orchestra (1932) and there’s plenty more including orchestral and choral works. The Vow was rescued from oblivion by Barry Goldsmith and had it orchestrated by Abelardo Flores from sketchy indications left by the composer. It’s an enigmatic piece, not all dramatic. In fact its hieratic elevated character reminded me of a much larger-scale work: Bax’s Symphonic Variations. If the Saminsky had been called something like The Temple, I would not have been surprised.

Bloch was also something of a pilgrim-gypsy-refugee and travelled widely. Loosely speaking three works form a geographical trilogy:-

Israel Symphony (1914) (reviews JW RB)

America - an Epic Rhapsody (1926) (reviews RB JF)

Helvetia - A Land of Mountains and its People (1929) is descriptive of and a hymn to the land of Bloch’s birth. The performance here conveys in the music of the opening and the close a wonderful sense of the peace conferred by reflection in the world’s high places. This magically sustained writing is not that distant from Delius’s Song of the High Hills and Novák’s In the Tatras. Horn-calls echo near and far from peak to glacier to precipitous rock-face. This is punctuated with rustic RVW-style dances (8:57). It might almost be Somerset or perhaps the Auvergne. It still strikes me as a not quite completely resolved piece. Its striking heavy-footed funereal march (13:40) develops into rodomontade but there’s a regal climax worthy of Korngold. At its peak Bloch’s writing has a Straussian exuberance. The piece ends in an atmosphere of high hills serenity. It was composed in San Francisco in 1929 and premiered by the redoubtable Frederick Stock in Chicago in 1932.

Helvetia is the only piece here to have any competition. Lior Shambadal and l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recorded the piece with two works for viola and orchestra, the Suite and the Suite Hébraïque in 2002. Although the Cascavelle CD (RSR 6170) sounds somewhat richer in the acoustic of the Victoria Hall, Geneva this rather discursive piece benefits from the tauter pace set by David Amos.

This is an extremely attractive disc for the adventurous listener. It’s all the more satisfying for the contrasts at play amongst the varied and accessible writing of Bloch, Saminsky and Achron. More of the same please.

Rob Barnett


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