Arriaga
Symphony in D
Haydn
Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drum Roll)
Mozart
Concerto in F for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K242 [composer’s arrangement of the Concerto for Three Pianos, K242]
Concerto in E flat for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K365
Three German Dances, K605
Four Minuets, K601
Serenade in D, K320 (Posthorn)
Symphony No.28 in C, K201
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Vitya Vronsky & Victor Babin (piano)

London Mozart Players
Harry Blech

Recorded 1955, 1956 & 1957 in Abbey Road Studio No.1, London
CD No: FIRST HAND RECORDS
FHR05 (3 CDs)
Duration: 3 hours 19 minutes
Reviewed: January 2010
Another very attractive release from First Hand Records, all of the stereo recordings made for HMV by the London Mozart Players and Harry Blech, and issued late in 2009 to mark the 60th-anniversary of the LMP that year and also the centenary of Blech’s birth (although some sources give 1910 as his birth-year: June 1909 has been verified). Blech (who died in 1999) – a violinist in the Hallé Orchestra, then the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the leader of an eponymous string quartet – formed the London Mozart Players in 1949 and remained as music director for thirty-five years, the ensemble a staple of London concerts as well as being on international duty and the makers of some fine recordings.
The ‘Jupiter’ Symphony enjoys a virile account of the first movement, quite ardent in fact, if at times a little brusque, but the tender opening to the slow movement makes amends, a lovingly sustained traversal that develops intensity in the development. With a Minuet that has infectious lilt and a lively, celebratory finale, this is a direct, detailed and affecting performance. Symphony 28 receives a festive outing in the outer movements, heartfelt in the Andante, swinging in the Minuet. Exposition repeats are observed, but not in the ‘Jupiter’.
In the pair of concertos for two pianos, Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin share harmonious exchanges, a delicate touch and a real sense of interaction to give us particularly loveable performances, such affection radiating from the musicians themselves, the slow movement of the E flat Concerto elegantly turned and with feeling, the finale spirited and poised and, when required, given with an unforced ebullience; similar qualities informing the F major Concerto.
The Minuets and German Dances are brought off with style; very enjoyable in these performances of gusto; and Mozart’s large-scale ‘Posthorn’ Serenade is given a splendid outing, grave in its opening, spirited, poised and detailed in the Allegro that follows. In all seven movements, Blech judges tempo unerringly, the fifth-movement, marked Andantino but here taken more as an adagio, is eloquently revealing. Woodwind-playing throughout is particularly characterful. Crisper timpani would have been welcome, but this is certainly a performance to relish alongside yardstick recordings by Colin Davis, Eugen Jochum and George Szell.
Of the music not by Mozart, the Symphony in D by the short-lived Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga (1806-1826) is full of delightful invention and invention, allowing us to savour what was and what might have been; the slow introduction full of promise, the Allegro vivace as sunny as Arriaga’s native Spain, the ‘Spanish’ Symphony that Mendelssohn did not write. The slow movement is a lyrical Andante, somewhat Schubertian, the Minuet turns out to be a pointed scherzo, and the nervy finale is a fine rounding-off. Blech seems to have had a soft spot for this concentrated and enjoyable work and this performance brings it alive persuasively.
Haydn’s ‘Drum Roll’ Symphony is presented in mono (so too is the finale of the 'Posthorn' Serenade), there being no stereo version. Blech opts for forte-diminuendo for the opening timpani solo to signal an expectant introduction and, then, a lively exposition (the only quibble being short grace-notes). The slow movement begins with notable gravitas, and the finale is irresistible élan.
With handsome re-mastering by Ian Jones and excellent, informative notation (including the reproduction of the LPs’ original covers), this is a noteworthy and very pleasing release. How Mozart (and the other composers here) used to be played, with wit and warmth rather than dogma – and still can be thanks to these recordings that are gratefully received.

 

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