The complete HMV stereo recordings of the London Mozart Players
CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major “Jupiter” K551 [26:36]; Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in Eb major K365 [25:47]; Four Minuets K601 [8:45]; Three German Dances K605 [6:51];
CD 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 28 in C major K200 [17:55]; Concerto for Two Pianos in F major K242 [23:13]; Serenade No. 9 in D major “Posthorn” K320 [40:14];
CD 3
Juan Crisóstomo de ARRIAGA (1806-1826) Symphony in D major [22:57]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No. 103 in E flat major “Drum Roll” [27:07]
Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin (piano)
London Mozart Players/Harry Blech
rec. 1955-1957, Abbey Road Studio No. 1.
FIRST HAND REMASTERS FHR05 [3 CDs: 67:58 + 64:05 + 67:21]

The London Mozart Players were founded by Harry Blech in 1949. At that time he was best known as leader of the string quartet bearing his name. Their first concert in the Wigmore Hall was an immense success and in 1951 they began a series in the Royal Festival Hall that drew a loyal and devoted audience. Harry Blech continued to conduct the orchestra until 1984 but the present recordings all date from the period of the orchestra’s early years, when it seemed to offer a fresher and more lively way of playing Mozart and Haydn than did the larger London orchestras.

The London Mozart Players were recorded by HMV from 1952. These LPs were issued in mono but from 1956 recordings were also made in stereo, although the very helpful notes with these discs explain that the producer for these sessions worked essentially on the mono version, leaving the stereo to a separate balance engineer. They were all issued initially in mono only, with a stereo version following later if there was felt to be sufficient demand. In the event stereo versions of many of the recordings here remained unissued and even unedited, and are presented here for the first time. I note in passing that the Haydn Symphony was recorded only in mono, and is offered here by way of an Appendix, and that the stereo tapes of the final movement of the Serenade could not be found so that this too is only in mono. The stereo recordings themselves have only limited directional character, so that neither the two pianos in the concertos nor even the normal left-right placing of first and second violins that Blech insisted on are very apparent to the listener. What is apparent, however, is a more generalised opening up of the texture than in their mono discs, so that all the glorious detail of these works is much more obvious. Dutton have issued some of their earlier mono recordings which make an interesting comparison.

What is even more apparent, however, is how very characterful the performances are. Admittedly they might not pass muster now in terms of current views on historically informed performance, but the players always seem to show immense enjoyment in the music, and are never content either to introduce effects for their own sake or merely to coast along - the listener is captivated from first to last. Admittedly not everything is perfect. The concertos show what a good team Vronsky and Babin were, sounding for much of the time like a single pianist, but, perhaps perversely, I think it better if there is some aural differentiation between the two players so that the concertos sound more conversational and less virtuosic. Nonetheless on their own terms both performances meet the demands of the works. Incidentally, K242 was originally for three pianos but is played in the composer’s version for two pianos.

The various symphonies all go well, as do the shorter works, but my clear favourite here is the “Posthorn” Serenade. This can seem overlong but here every movement is given such character that an immediate encore was required. The set would be worth having for it alone, especially as it is available at a very low price, but with all the rest included it becomes an irresistible bargain and a worthy memorial to Harry Blech the 100th anniversary of whose birth was celebrated in 2009.

John Sheppard