First and foremost, this is enjoyable music-making, cleanly
and clearly recorded. As First Hand Records specialize in bringing
stereo recordings to CD for the first time I must point out
that this applies to all the recordings here and in the case
of the Symphony and Minuets this is their first release in stereo.
This is just about an ideal performance of Symphony 36. The
instruments are modern but the lean approach, the clarity and
contrast nevertheless obtained, are those of period instrument
accounts twenty years later. What Harry Blech exploits in addition,
is the silkier, sunnier quality of modern strings combined with
attractively shaped phrasing. You notice this first in the second
phrase of the introduction which is melting, sinuous, feminine.
The first phrase, virile, authoritative but not over weighty,
sets down a marker without impeding progress. Thereafter the
sforzandi, those loud chords which suddenly soften, are gently
nudged, not stabbed. The main body Allegro is sprightly and
lithe, athletic rather than majestic. The rhythms dance and
the violins’ tremolo shimmers.
I compared the 1956 recording by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto
Klemperer (EMI 9559322). His full size orchestra brings more
majesty and weight to the opening movement, with great panache
save for an over heavy start to the introduction. Klemperer
has the advantage over Blech in the outer movements in observing
the exposition repeats. Blech’s slow movement is sunny and warm,
regal in a feminine way yet its emotive underpinning is still
clear. The motif of rising semiquavers in the second part of
the movement is pleasingly gentle. Here Klemperer, within a
more fulsome sonority, is sleek and graceful. Without Blech’s
warmth or imperious quality, he relies on clear dynamic contrast
and rhythmic pointing which gives a rather furtive nature to
the rising semiquavers.
Blech’s Minuet has a cheery bounce yet remains crisp and light.
The Trio, soft throughout as marked by Mozart, has simplicity
and grace. Klemperer’s Minuet is just a little too measured.
Again contrast is neatly effected in Blech’s finale (tr. 4)
with an opening sweet, soft phrase followed by a loud one of
generous depth. The stimulating effect of the gradual increase
of fast rhythms and fuller scoring is relished. It’s good to
experience Mozart’s antiphonal writing through the benefit of
stereo when the theme passes at 4:47 from first violins on the
left to the seconds on the right. Klemperer’s finale exploits
the scope offered by fuller forces to contrast shimmering lightness
In Piano concerto 24 (tr. 5) Blech’s conducting shows the same
attention to rhythm and clarity. With a 1959 full-sized orchestra
the tutti sound is starker, more romantic, partly owing to the
brighter recording. It also features an extraordinarily nasal
oboe which takes some getting used to. From the first piano
solo comes a contrast, Louis Kentner seeing his role as smoothing
things out, emphasising contemplation and lyricism. I compared
the classic 1967 account by Clifford Curzon with the London
Symphony Orchestra/Istvan Kertesz (Decca 4684912). Curzon has
more inwardness while Kentner accentuates display. I’m thinking
especially of his treatment of the leap which ends the obsessive
6-note phrase that dominates the first movement. With Curzon
you feel a sense of distance and effort involved in that leap.
With Kentner it’s more a matter of athleticism. Nevertheless
the development from Kentner (6:40) is more suitably cloudy
and reflective. Kertesz’s direction for Curzon creates a feeling
of implacable progression. He is more tense than Blech who has
power but lacks Kertesz’s sense of frenzy on the cusp of eruption.
As Mozart left no cadenza Kentner plays his own which is highly
romantic and discursive; it lasts 3:04. Even so, it is in keeping
with the overall interpretation.
The slow movement is limpidly played by Kentner with the minimum
of ornamentation. It offers a contrasting and attractive sparseness
to the gestures of the previous movement. The tempo is easygoing
but works and the Philharmonia’s woodwind backing is lovely;
this granted that you are by now used to the oboe. Curzon’s
concern in this movement is with emphasising its flowing melody,
to which he brings more warmth.
Clarity is again the key feature in Blech’s finale (tr. 7),
for instance the first violins’ snake-like chromatic descent
(0:31). Kentner is equally neat, clean, even more detached.
You can admire the martial third variation (2:39) and the yielding
fourth with its more dancing piano (3:40). There’s further relief
in the sunny sixth variation (5:47) but towards the close the
mood becomes frozen. Curzon is engaging because everything is
more active. So his third variation is spirited, his fourth
has more spring, his sixth is happier and Curzon’s close is
one of active defiance rather than Kentner’s stoic submission.
The Twelve Minuets were written for Vienna’s Imperial Court’s
Redoutensaal. This is light-hearted, ingenious, sometimes experimental
Mozart full of vivacity and charm, all aspects which Blech gets
across well. Minuet 1 contrasts the confidence of the strings’
four-semiquaver flourishes with the strut of trumpets and drums
added at the end of the first phrase. Its Trio has blithe oboes
and chuckling bassoons. My only criticism of the recording and
performance is that there seems to have been a concern about
making the timpani too prominent so the opposite is what tends
Minuet 3 is all high spirits with a more humorous stride and
clarinets spotlit. Minuet 5 is elegant, with a petite, charming
Trio. Minuet 6, for all its graceful dancing, surprises in the
second section of its Trio which is a wild, chromatic tutti
fandango. Minuet 7 has a comely and carefree flow and Minuet
8 adopts a pastoral manner. Minuet 9 is the most striking. Its
opening serenity quickly turns to something more assertive where
melodic repetition is spiced by harmonic variation. Its Trio
sets off oboe and bassoon in urbane dialogue. Minuets 10 and
12 are of military character with trumpets and drums. Minuet
12 has the more contrast in its playful Trio with repeats featuring
There’s not a cloud on the horizon in this set and Blech conveys
it all both stylishly and with evident enjoyment. To sum up,
Blech’s Linz symphony is excellent and ahead of its time while
his Twelve Minuets offer plenty to enjoy, but Piano Concerto
24, with full sized orchestra, doesn’t make the same impact.