Blech conducts TCHAIKOVSKY = Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64; Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48: Valse and Tema Russo; Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 (edited) – Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Leo Blech
Pristine Audio PASC181, 57:25 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Producer and recording engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has delved in the archives of Leo Blech (1871-1958) and eschewed the usual Wagner inscription or one of the Fritz Kreisler concerto projects Blech led in Berlin prior to Kreisler’s later EMI sojourns. Instead, Obert-Thorn happily resurrects the 1928-1930 Tchaikovsky inscriptions this fastidious conductor made for Electrola; but I say “fastidious” in spite of the sometimes severe cuts that plagued Tchaikovsky shellacs in order to suit the time limits of the 78 rpm medium.
From the opening “turn not unto sorrow” motif derived from Glinka, Blech delivers a thoughtful, resonant declaration of Fate in the Fifth Symphony (October 1930), moving attacca to the Allegro con anima where others might pause a moment. A grand procession ensues, even with a diminuendo or two thrown in so as to increase the drama. The tempo remains brisk but not without epic pathos, the BSOO string exquisitely poised between arco and plucked passages. While Blech applies tempo rubato, it is never so exaggerated as we find in Mengelberg, so the basic, steady pulse reaches an inexorable, logical conclusion. The large waltz tune moves in linear, driven fashion, picking up accents and resonance as it mounts to typical Tchaikovsky trumpet fanfare. The working-out emphasizes Tchaikovsky’s devotion to sonata-form, the pace at the recap decidedly fiery, even glib. The last chords rumble with grim resolve.
Blech makes a strong case for the otherwise sentimental Tchaikovsky, playing the Andante cantabile as a straightforward song without words, even bestowing an air of melancholy nobility to this paean to loneliness. The Fate motif returns with particular malice, placing this thoughtful interpretation against such timely competitors as Stock, Lambert, and Mengelberg. The Valse proves rather balletic, unhurried, a lull before another storm. Quite sensational clear filigree from the BSOO strings and woodwinds, making us regret that Blech did not inscribe the G Major Suite. The finale: Andante maestoso–Allegro vivace had always been susceptible to cuts–Mengelberg’s one of the most glaring–Blech is perhaps more judicious in his severing of the Russian‘s fiery momentum, but any purist will take some umbrage at the fiendish desire to contain the Fifth on ten shellac sides.
Blech bequeaths us two movements from the C Major Serenade (March 1929)–as would Furtwaengler twenty years later from Vienna–both plastic and sympathetic to the Tchaikovsky ethos. The Valse draws out the last bars of the stated theme into that same etched filament Furtwaengler favors. Nice tempo rubato for the middle section. The last page is magic. The fourth movement Theme Russe suffers frightful cuts, heading right to the canonic, vivo materials in plucked and arco strings. What we do hear is quite magnificent, but we’d like it all. The incongruities of an eight-minute Capriccio Italien rival those of TV stations that program “R” movies and then eviscerate them to suit a Puritan audience. Germany would have to wait for Paul van Kempen to deliver a Capriccio worth its organic salt. Remember when John Garfield’s Paul Boray got fed up (in Humoresque) when the Tchaikovsky B-flat Piano Concerto got butchered for a network broadcast? I guess Blech and I should have gone to the movies.
— Gary Lemco