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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Concerto Symphonique in B minor for piano and orchestra (1947-48) [40:10]
Scherzo Fantastique for piano and orchestra (1948) [9:23]
Hiver - Printemps - two symphonic poems (1904-05) [5:40, 6:29]
Halida Dinova (piano)
Symphony Orchestra of the State Academic Cappella of St Petersburg/Alexander Tchernushenko
rec. Concert Hall of the Cappella, St Petersburg, 28 February 2002 (Scherzo); 5 March 2002) (Hiver-Printemps); 10-12 July 2002 (Concerto). DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10085 [62:03]
Experience Classicsonline

As with any record company some discs seem to fall through the gaps in the critics’ net and almost cease to exist. So it is with Chandos in the case of two discs I intend to tackle: this one and their fascinating Maric CD. Bloch is another of those composers rarely to be heard in the orchestral concert-hall. It may not always be so but for now his realm is recorded music.
 
As for Bloch’s Concerto Symphonique it does not have the field completely to itself. In 1990 the work was recorded, also with the Scherzo Fantastique by Laurel (LR851CD - see review). Laurel are virtually a one-man champion for Bloch with many discs to their credit though mostly chamber. Their recording of the Concerto Symphonique was by Micah Yui (piano) and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the ever-enterprising David Amos. That remains an estimable performance and one which - like that of the Scherzo - is a shade faster than this one. However, the Chandos sound is superior benefiting from the vividly lively acoustic of the St Petersburg Cappella concert hall. The life is there in the vibrant decay of the fortissimo at the end of the Scherzo.
 
As for the music the Scherzo and the Concerto – pretty much contemporary works – look back to a plunging romantic mood that some must have found out of its time when the concerto was premiered by Corinne Lacomblé in September 1949. That was when the work was heard at the Edinburgh International Festival. The three lusty movements are serious and strike rhetorical gestures recalling the sturm und drang of the Bliss Piano Concerto. Into this are mixed elements of fantasy that look to the Russians and to Bloch’s own early impressionistic-expressionist music. This is a lanky turbulent concerto distinctively lacking a relaxing change of mood in the form of a peaceable or reflective andante or adagio. There is remission but it comes in the form of fantastic Ravelian textures sewn with threat and foreboding – like a hyper-tensile version of the sinister quiet elements of The Firebird.
 
Speaking of Stravinsky there is a touch of early Stravinsky in the Scherzo Fantastique which despite its title has nothing of the Wedding Cake Caprice about it. It’s serious again, more brilliant than the Concerto and, oddly enough, redolent of Bax in his more thunderous moods in Winter Legends and the First of the three Northern Ballads. Hiver – Printemps breaks the piano and orchestra mould and takes us back to the first decade of the last century with Bloch clearly affected by the expressionists and impressionism. There is another version - Timpani IC1052 (see review) - but the couplings are quite different. This music is rather like the fanciful irresistible idylls in Glazunov’s The Seasons yet filtered through an expressionist gauze – perhaps one proffered by Zemlinsky. The second poem ends with a valiantly successful failure to ‘resolve’. 
 
Throughout this disc the execution is admirable apart from one moment of hesitant raggedness near the start of Printemps. It is also well documented by Calum MacDonald who has done so much for the John Foulds revival.
 
Rob Barnett
 


 


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