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Boris BLACHER (1903-1975)
Dance Suite: Overture Fürstin Tarakanowa (1940) [4.52]
Demeter Suite (1963) [7:49]
Lysistrata (1949/50) Nos. 4 & 5 (arr. Kalitzke) [6.39]
Poème (1974) [16.39]
Symphonic Poem Hamlet Op.17 (1940) [12.28]
Concertante Music for Orchestra Op.10 (1937) [8.46]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Kalitzke
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, 2017
CAPRICCIO C5349 [57.23]

I draw the following outline of Blacher's life from the helpful Boosey and Hawkes website. Blacher was born in Manchuria, where his father worked for a bank. The family moved to Siberia and in 1922 he went to Berlin to study architecture and then music. For some years Blacher supported himself as an arranger of popular and film music. A first academic post came in 1938, when Karl Böhm obtained a place for him as director of a composition class at the Dresden Conservatory. He was forced to resign the following year as his teaching did not accord with National Socialist policy so his musical life faltered during the Second World War. The premiere of his Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini in 1947 re-established him within German musical life and to an extent internationally. He wrote nine ballets and thirteen operas including the improbably delightful Preussisches Märchen, Prussian Fairy-Tale. As well as the Paganini Variations one other work gained some performance outside his homeland, the Concertante Musik from 1937. His chamber music includes five string quartets. Blacher’s style took something from Stravinsky and such contemporaries as Milhaud, Berg and Bartók, but to my ears the two names that help place this music for the listener today are Hindemith and Martinů. He was inspired by Schoenberg’s note-rows but never wrote strictly serial compositions. He was also an important and much-respected teacher, his pupils including Gottfried von Einem, Aribert Reimann and Kalevi Aho. He died on 30 January 1975 and, as is often the case, his music fell into immediate neglect.

The present disc is the second of Blacher's music I have heard from the Berlin Radio Symphony. The other, on Ondine ODE912-2, is conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy and duplicates just two short works, the Concertante Music and the Overture to Fürstin Tarakanowa. I should say that in both works Ashkenazy sounds more rhythmically alive where Kalitzke sounds rather four square but that is really splitting hairs because both CDs are well worth hearing and are otherwise different repertoire. Both recordings are excellent reflections of the superb acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin long used by recording companies.

Kalitzke's CD starts with a so-called Dance Suite. I cannot find any evidence that Blacher wrote a work of that name so I assume the four movements have been placed together by the conductor. The Overture is from one of his many operas, Fürstin Tarakanowa, the second and third movements are from his ballet Demeter and the final movement, arranged by the conductor, is a merging of two parts from another ballet Lysistrata. Blacher himself compiled suites from both these ballets so, as they say, other versions are available. Possibly because nobody has any familiarity with this music, one can accept this pot-pourri as a perfectly justified "Dance Suite". There is no doubt the music is highly enjoyable, very rhythmic and often tuneful in a clipped sort of way, but the range of styles is quite wide, the sources dating from 1940 through to 1963, a period in which Blacher evolved as a composer.

The Poème is a powerful piece reaching high levels of intensity, a characteristic also of the earlier Hamlet symphonic poem, which is a very worthwhile discovery. The CD ends with the three movement Concertante Op.10 which is very engaging as well as short, lasting less than nine minutes.

Hearing this CD set me off on a search for more Blacher and the result has been quite a few hours of intriguing listening still ongoing as I write. With no anniversaries due, CD is the only way can hear his music and I do recommend most strongly that those attracted to the composers I have noted above buy this splendid disc and be prepared to purchase more. The notes are not as coherent as one would like and do suffer a bit from poor translation. The Ondine CD mentioned does a better job on the biographical and cultural background.

Dave Billinge



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