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Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra - Dvorak Piano Concerto in G minor - Audiophile Audition

24 June 2009
Audiophile Audition
Gary Lemco
4 Stars

The concerto holds a special place, perhaps not so much as a vehicle for bravura and showmanship, but as among the most lyrical of the composer's works.

For those of us who know the Dvorak Piano Concerto (1876) from occasional performances/recordings by Rudolf Firkusny, Sviatoslav Richter, Ivan Moravec, and Frantisek Maxian, it holds a special place, perhaps not so much as a vehicle for bravura and showmanship, but as among the most lyrical of the composer's works, either in its abridged (ed. W. Kurz) or, as in this case, its uncut form. This live recording from Boris Bloch - eminent pupil of Dimitri Bashkirov and Tatiana Nikoleyeva - captures that glorious spontaneity that exits when Dvorak has struck gold in terms of melody and orchestral color, certainly - like the two Brahms concertos - a symphony with piano obbligato.

Except for the pianist, I knew naught of the principals on this production, not even the label. Yet the orchestra was established in 1877 and led by luminaries Hindemith, Reger, Eugen and G.L. Jochum, Carl Schuricht, and Bruno Walter. And although the Dvorak Concerto has been stained with a derogatory moniker, "concerto for two right hands,"  Bloch asserts enough brilliance and color to remind us of the music's challenges and its lyrical-dramatic rewards. The finale of the first movement Allegro agitato rumbles with enough ferocity to make it a blood brother with the D Minor Brahms.

The falling figures of the Andante sostenuto remain among Dvorak's most happy inventions of a simple folk evocation.  Bloch's pearly play glistens in concert with the Duisberger woodwinds and French horn. The skittish interlude, a scherzando in Chopin style, introduces more colors that take on mysterious resonances and wonderful bassoon and flute colors, some of which point to the G Major Symphony. The scaled crescendo to the music's climax enjoys a marcato approach that helps provide a foil to the sweeping peroration and soft close that melts into outer space. The ensuing Furiant promises to become a water-piece under Bloch's fluid hands, the filigree reminiscent at several turns of the Grieg Concerto. Improvisatory and nostalgic, the third theme curls with memories of Bohemia. Bloch articulates the staccato runs with assiduous articulation; the uncut version does suffer redundancies, but the melodic invention rescues us from musical fatigue. The Duisberger winds and strings appear to enjoy their colloquies with Bloch, and the whole sonic aura assumes the proportions of a concerto by Anton Rubinstein. The last pages hurl themselves into a Slavonic Dance for piano and orchestra, sheer delight from the Master.

We move from the concert hall to the Romantic salon for disc two, opening with the four Chopin impromptus (1835-1843), including the Op. 66 Fantasie-Impromptu. Each of these polished showpieces allows Bloch any number of poetic excursions, since each is a ternary song-form that bristles with operatic fioritura and flirtatious rhetoric. Gorgeous piano sound from Bloch's Bechstein accentuates the strings of jeweled sounds that emanate from Francophile Poland, especially in the diaphanous subtleties of the F-sharp Major, Op. 36 Impromptu, whose middle section resonates with the thrilling tensions of a polonaise. The most metrically intricate of the first three, the G-flat Major, Op. 51, slides off of Bloch's fingers with lithe, virile ease, a delicate poem barely a step removed from Scriabin‘s snowflakes, the bass rumbling with resignation. The perennial Fantasie-Impromptu, fleet and high-flying, cascades forth with plastic voluptuousness, its eternal song preserved in lavender.

Bloch's playing of Tchaikovsky's 1886 Doumka reminds us that this piece found favor with Horowitz and Ashkenazy. Its Slavic (Ukrainian) melancholy unfolds like a Volga boat song; then, true to its Bohemian models, the mood shifts to scherzando and bravura, big chords, acrobatic and evocative of Liszt. The Natha-Valse (1882) combines the salon with a semi-honky-tonk sound, possessing swagger and nervous nostalgia. Finally, a transcription by Alexander Siloti of a nocturne from The Snow Maiden (1873), a plaintive, drooping, and syncopated mood-piece - a bit anticipatory of Lenski's Aria - that would fit perfectly into The Seasons, Op. 37.

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