BLOCH: Concerto symphonique in B minor. Scherzo fantasque. Hiver-Printemps (Two symphonic poems)
Halida Dinova, pianist; Symphony Orchestra of the State Academic Capella of St. Petersburg/Alexander Tchernushenko, cond.
CHANDOS CHAN 10085 (F) (DDD) TT: 62:03

The two works listed above for piano and orchestra were composed after WW2 following a creative hiatus: nothing major for orchestra had come from Bloch since the Violin Concerto, completed in 1938. Swiss-born but French-trained in the main, he emigrated to the US in 1916 along with Edgard Varèse, became a citizen in 1924, returned to Europe for nine years (1930-39), then resettled stateside for the rest of his nearly 80 years. As famous as his compositions made him, Bloch was no less important an educator. Consider: he founded the Cleveland Institute of Music (1920-25), was director of the San Francisco Conservatory (1925-30), and after 1939 became professor of composition at UC/Berkeley until his death just 9 days before his 79th birthday. His early “French period” as a composer included the diptych Hiver-Printemps (Winter- Spring) with echoes of Fauré but also, as I hear it, Vincent d’Indy—very pretty and beguilingly descriptive music from 1904-05 that seems to have to have disappeared from programs. The performance here is handsome indeed, and to the idiom faithful.

The major work, however, is Concerto symphonique on which Bloch labored for two years (1946-48) before conducting the premiere at the Edinburgh Festival with the BBC Scottish Orchestra and pianist Corinne Lacomblé in September 1949. It is a big, three-movement piece, 40 minutes long in this sinuously played recording by Halida Dinova (whose academic credentials include study at the Cleveland Institute as well as the Kazan State and St. Petersburg Conservatories). The root key is B-minor, one of Bloch’s recurring favorites, which finally becomes B major. One can cite “influences” (most program annotators do, from Debussy to Ravel to Rachmaninov in the finale), but the work has its own vocabulary: what Virgil Thomson described in American Music Since 1910 as “romantic in feeling, classical in form, [and] when not Jewish-inspired...tend[ing] toward the neoclassical.” It is a dramatic piece, with an idée fixe heard at the outset and at the end, with a scherzo midway that the composer called “diabolical” (but also with a trio of fetching fantasy). It seems to have become a “woman’s concerto,” nonetheless, starting with the premiere, and continuing through the only other recording I’ve been able to track down, by Marjorie Mitchell on Vanguard. Now we have Halida Dinova as the newest champion, who plays the Scherzo fantasque with the same combination of bravura and tracery. It was written in 1948 immediately following the Concerto, originally for two pianos but subsequently orchestrated and introduced not by Lacomblé and her husband, the joint dedicatees, but by Ida Krehm with Bloch conducting the Chicago Symphony in December 1950, during a week-long celebration of his 70th birthday.

The St. Petersburg State Academic Capella Orchestra dates back to 1882, and while disbanded in 1921, it was re-formed in 1991 by the current conductor and his father Vladislav. Recorded sound in the orchestra’s home is finely balanced with a genuine concert-hall ambience. If I can imagine Martha Argerich and one of her coterie of conductors giving a performance more hell-for-leather, that likelihood is nil, leaving Chandos holding a winning hand. Recommended.

R.D. (August 2003)