Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Boris BLACHER (1903-1975) Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini Op.26
(1947) [14:34] * Orchestral Ornament Op.44 (1953) [14:37] + Studie im Pianissimo Op.45 (1953) [7:48] Orchester Fantasie (1956) [19:19]
Louisville Orchestra/Jorge Mester +
Louisville Orchestra/Lawrence Leighton Smith *
rec. Louisville, 1985 (Orchestral Variations) 1968
(Orchestral Ornament), 1954 (Studie im Pianissimo)
and 1966 (Orchester Fantasie) FIRST EDITION FECD0040 [56:18]
were three premiere recordings in this Blacher release, another
in the more-than-welcome retrieval series issued under the
aegis of First Edition. That wasn’t the case of course with
one of his best-known works, the Orchestral Variations
on a Theme by Paganini, which dates from 1947. Lightly
and elegantly scored – note the piccolo and three flutes – this
evinces a comprehensive contrapuntal mastery that never palls.
The elegant pizzicati that underpin the gauzy waltz-like
section are just a single example of Blacher’s control of
rhythm and texture. The writing is bold, jaunty, brassy as
well – excitingly laced with galvanizing and buffeting cross
rhythms. Lawrence Leighton Smith does the honours on the
rostrum – and excellently so, the Louisville Orchestra responding
with wit and precision.
Ornament is cast in four sections.
It’s a sophisticated example of his use of spare textures
and of his metrical control. The opening is sometimes composed
of only single string voices, which imparts a rather desolate
feel. The slightly cagey but artful dance of the second
section generates an almost Straussian direction. Note
too the trumpet principal’s fat, cornet-like tone – always
a distinctive feature of the Louisville recordings (who
was he?). This is a work where the beauty resides in its
austerity; everything is laid out with precision but with
no loss of warmth.
wrote in the original LP sleeve-note that Studie im Pianissimo was
a “Nocturne – if you want to call it that.” This rather equivocal
statement disguises an ingenious grid of seven bar patterns
throughout its compact length – only eight minutes – and
the use of instrumentation (increased or removed) to change
dynamic levels. Finally there is the 1956 Orchester Fantasie. Though
this verges on the tersely atonal at various points it’s
not remotely schematically off-putting. On the contrary there’s
pawky humour and lashings of brass and string colour throughout.
The rhythmic variety conjured by Blacher is also of unflagging
variety and interest. In the central Adagio the poignancy
of the single string voicings is notable, though rather maliciously
undercut by the whimsical answers of the winds and the repetitive
indifference of their ascending and descending lines. This
balance of depth and caprice is a constant wonder. So too
are the pungently dramatic arabesques for winds and harp
in the Vivace – with jazzy percussion as well. The Coda ends
with brusque, terse and perhaps appropriately unresolved
drama. This is one of Blacher’s most effective and all-embracing
orchestral works and a must-hear for adherents.
performances are invariably a little dated now and some of
the tougher writing clearly caused sectional discipline.
But these are otherwise dedicated and affirmative traversals
and still give a huge amount of pleasure.
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