Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony no.36 in C Linz K.425 [23:45] (1)
Piano Concerto no.24 in C minor K.491 [34:08] (2)
12 Minuets K.568 [23:16] (3)
Louis Kentner (piano) (2)
London Mozart Players/Harry Blech (1, 3), Philharmonia Orchestra (2)/Harry Blech
rec. 22-23 December 1954 (1), 23-24 May 1959 (2), 4 December 1956 (3), Studio No. 1, Abbey Road, London
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR15 [81:10]
Not all that long ago I reviewed a coupling of Schubert’s 4th and 5th symphonies by the LMP under Harry Blech on Forgotten Records. I gave an account of my personal recollections of Blech’s conducting and of his long reign on the South Bank platforms. So here I’ll just reiterate the main point that, during the first decade of their activity, the LMP brought something new to London concert life - an orchestra of approximately the dimensions Haydn and Mozart would have heard and, equally importantly, an exploration of the less well-known works of these composers. By the time he retired, Blech had conducted all the symphonies of both composers.
At the same time, Blech tended to use his small forces to propound interpretations that, to today’s ears, seem essentially romantic. We can hear this immediately in the introduction to the “Linz” which is gravely paced and romantically - almost Brahmsianly - coloured. The Allegro spiritoso goes with a good deal of vigour while the Andante is expounded with much breadth and considerable warmth. So far so good, but the Minuet is not especially characterful and the Finale has a rather portly gait for a “Presto”. In its majestic way it convinces, but I’m not sure that the performance delivers on its initial promise.
In the concerto Blech is conducting the Philharmonia. The opening ritornello establishes no especial character. Louis Kentner’s playing, however, is very strongly characterized. His tone is lucent, but with slowish tempi, allowing the music to unfold spaciously, the effect is of a dark lucidity. I find this very interesting and the pianist deserved to work out his interpretation with a kindred spirit. Blech follows him well enough while he is playing, but in orchestral passages of any length his evident tendency towards more suavely flowing tempi gets the better of him, and Kentner has to re-establish his tempo every time. By the finale they seem to have given up on each other and both parties agree that sleepiness should be the name of the game. Kentner’s own first movement cadenza is fascinating in a slightly Medtnerish way and this little-recorded pianist probably deserves investigation.
It is the 12 Minuets that make this record worthwhile. Blech sees to it that each has its own specific character, lilting, majestic, pompous and gently humorous by turn. He also has some of the finest woodwind players on the London scene at the time and he lets them enjoy themselves. In particular, every contribution from the bassoonist Archie Camden is a delight. This, perhaps, was what Blech and the LMP were all about: taking a set of “minor” Mozart that nobody else back then, not even Beecham, would have thought worth bothering about, and making each tiny piece a delight.
A souvenir of a conductor and orchestra that had something of its own to offer even in a city where the likes of Beecham, Klemperer, Boult and countless more were regularly plying their wares. A reminder of HMV in its halcyon days, too, with Berthold Goldschmidt and Lawrance Collingwood named as producers. The LMP performances were recorded in experimental stereo which is seeing the light of day only with the present release. It doesn’t sound its age. Blech’s left and right separation of the first and second violins is a definite plus factor in the “Linz”.
It is the 12 Minuets that show what Harry Blech and the LMP were all about.