Boris Blacher's music is even more unfashionable than Paul Hindemith's - and far less familiar too. Blacher was once a big name in modern music (around the middle of the last century) but times and tastes change. Even his most famous work, the teemingly inventive Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op.26, struggles to get a hearing. Which is where a blog comes in handy! Here's a stunning performance of the work by Ferenc Fricsay and the RIAS Symphony Orchestra:
As you will immediately recognise (I have no doubt), yes, it's that theme of Paganini - the tune from his 24th Caprice for solo violin. Blacher initially presents it as if you were about to hear the original piece but then subjects it to sixteen continuously-flowing variations. The style seems to lie somewhere between Hindemith at his most macho and the neo-Classical Stravinsky at his most elegant - if I must have a stab at stuffing poor Blacher into a convenient pigeon-hole. The work can be heard as a sort of concerto for orchestra. For example, the first variation spotlights the woodwinds while the second variation foregrounds solo oboe and pizzicato strings. A swirling march for strings and brass, with timpani at its climaxes, follows. A small group of strings glides across the stage over another pizzicato accompaniment in the next variation before winds wheel off towards a rhythmically enticing variation with a dancing flute solo. Cross-rhythms abound, with jazz and the rhythms of popular music influencing several of the variations. Thus a purely pizzicato passage leads to a sultry Latin American-style dance for all the woodwind groups in turn (excluding the flutes). This is a highlight. Shortly afterwards the winds take part in a gentle, lightly-scored wind dance with engaging part-writing which seems to bear us to the ballet. Later timpani introduce another swirling variation with muscular interventions which precipitates a jazzy variation featuring bluesy asides for clarinet. We return to the spirit of the ballet for the exhilarating finale which reaches a rowdy conclusion.
It's an entertaining ride but you need to hold onto your hat!