Berlin State Opera Orchestra
conducted by Leo Blech Recorded 1928-1930, Beethoven-Saal, Berlin
First issued on Electrola 78rpm discs
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Don Tait for the loan of source material
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Leo Blech
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Play 1st movement excerpt:
Fabulous Tchaikovsky in astonishing sound quality
Mark Obert-Thorn resurrects a truly outstanding 5th Symphony
"Knowing Leo Blech mostly as providing accompaniment to Fritz Kreisler, and as having recorded some of the Germanic repertoire, I did not know of the existence of these early (1928–1930) Tchaikovsky recordings, which have been beautifully restored here by Mark Obert-Thorn. What wonderful recordings they are, beautifully supple in tempos and even in dynamics, despite the limitations of the technology behind 78s. Blech subtly interprets Tchaikovsky without compromising the power, the thrust, or the lyricism that one associates with the composer. The 1930 recording of the Symphony has remarkable presence..." - Michael Ullman, Fanfare Jan/Feb 2010
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64 Recorded October, 1930 in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin Matrices: CD 9138-1, 9139-2, 9140-1, 9141-2, 9142-2, 9167-2, 9168-2, 9169-2, 9170-1, 9171-2
First issued on Electrola EH 718 through 722
TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 Recorded March, 1929 in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin Matrices: CLR 5132-2 and 5133-2
First issued on Electrola EH 351
TCHAIKOVSKY: Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 Recorded 23rd March, 1928 in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin Matrices: CLR 3991-2 and 3992-1
First issued on Electrola EJ 294
Despite his being one of the most prolific recording artists of the 1920s and ‘30s, it is remarkable that Leo Blech set down so few extended symphonic works. Most of his discography is taken up with overtures, preludes and operatic accompaniments (largely Wagnerian). Of longer works, there are three concerto recordings, all with Fritz Kreisler; Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung; and seven symphonies, nearly all of them Viennese Classical or Early Romantic: Haydn 88 and 94 (the latter, three times); Mozart 34; Schubert 5, 8 (twice) and 9; and the odd man out, the present Tchaikovsky.
But although it is an anomaly amongst his symphonic recordings, Blech’s Tchaikovsky Fifth is, in my opinion, one of the great statements of this score from the 78 rpm era, ranking in the company of such other worthy performances as those of Mengelberg, Koussevitzky and Stock. Its combination of lyricism and inexorable momentum is unique, and it deserves to be more widely known.
A word is in order regarding cuts. Unlike earlier recordings of the symphony, Blech opens up the then-traditional big cut in the fourth movement development section. However, in order to bring the work in on the ten sides Electrola allotted, he was forced to make a number of small cuts on the final side. Regrettable though they are, the cuts are nonetheless done with intelligence, and work with the flow of the music well enough that the casual listener may not be aware of them.
In the Serenade for Strings finale, Blech cuts the introduction and the restatement of the work’s opening theme before the coda in order to fit the work on one side. Played out of context as it is, it makes perfect sense. Less sensible is the idea of recording the Capriccio Italien on two sides with brutal cuts; yet, this seems to have been a tradition among German conductors, as there are also single-disc versions by Kleiber, Böhm and Schuricht during the electric 78 rpm era.
The sources for the transfers were the best portions of two German Electrola copies for the Fifth Symphony; an Australian HMV for the Serenade movements; and a British HMV for the Capriccio. A couple instances of blasting on the second side of this last work were present on all copies I could find and may be unavoidable. None of these performances (which comprise Blech’s complete recorded Tchaikovsky repertoire) have ever been available on CD or even LP, and I am grateful for the opportunity to present them before a wider public now.
- Mark Obert-Thorn
notes from Wikipedia
Leo Blech (April 21, 1871 – August 25, 1958) was a German opera composer and conductor who is perhaps most famous for his work at the Königliches Schauspielhaus (later the Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper Unter den Linden) from 1906 to 1937, and later as the conductor of Berlin's Städtische Oper from 1949 to 1953. Blech was known for his reliable, clear, and elegant performances, especially of works by Wagner, Verdi, and Bizet's Carmen (which he conducted over 600 times), and for his sensitivity as an accompanist.
Early life and education
Blech was born to a Jewish family in Aachen, Rhenish Prussia. After attending the Hochschule in Berlin where he studied piano with Ernst Rudorff and composition from Woldemar Bargiel he took private lessons with Engelbert Humperdinck.
After working briefly in sales, Blech earned a position as conductor at the Stadttheater in Aachen in 1893. From 1899 to 1906, he conducted at the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague, before moving to the Königliches Schauspielhaus in Berlin. In 1913 he was promoted to General Music Director. Between 1923 and 1926, Blech took various positions at opera houses in Berlin and Vienna, including the Deutsches Opernhaus, the Berlin Volksoper, and the Vienna Volksoper. In 1926 he returned to the Schauspielhaus, now called the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, where he remained until Adolf Hitler's anti-semitic policies forced him into exile in Riga in 1937. During and after World War II, Blech conducted at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. In 1949 he returned to Berlin to conduct at the Städtische Oper, where he worked until 1953.
Aglaja (opera, 1893)
Cherubina (opera, 1894)
Rappelkopf (opera, unperformed)
Gavotte for cello and piano Op.10b 1902
Das war ich (opera, Dresden 1902, text from R. Batka)
Alpenkönig und Menschenfeind (reworking of opera from Raimund, Dresden 1903)
Aschenbroedel (opera, Prague 1905)
Versiegelt (opera, Hamburg 1908)
Die Strohwitwe (operetta, Hamburg 1920)
Von den Englein (female chorus)
Blech also composed orchestral works, choral works, chamber works, and songs.