Bloch remains trapped in a celebrity largely
locked into Schelomo. He is known also because his violin
concerto was famously recorded by Menuhin. Both works bask in
reflected light and one is left with the impression that Bloch's
hold on the repertoire is fragile. What of the music beyond
the confines of these two pieces?
There are five string quartets 1916, 1945, 1951-2,
1953, 1956 (three of which are on Arabesque - will they ever
complete the cycle?), two piano quintets, 1921-2, 1957 (also
on Arabesque) and four symphonies (C sharp minor, 1901-2, Israel,
1912-16, Sinfonia Breve, 1952, Symphony for trombone
and orchestra, 1954-55). Sedulous record collectors may also
have encountered Avodath Hakodesh or Sacred Service
(Bernstein, Bloch and another version on Chandos - conducted
by Berkman?), Concerto Symphonique (piano and orchestra,
Vanguard), Helvetia and America-Epic Rhapsody (both
Vanguard). There are also two very fine BIS CDs of the orchestral
music - collections built around the symphony and the violin
A notable absentee from the catalogue is Bloch's
opera - 'Lyric Drama' in seven scenes - Macbeth. It is
an earlyish work (1907) but highly esteemed by the few who know
the piece. I heard it (but regrettably did not keep the tape)
when it was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the late 1970s. That
performance was sourced from French Radio and was conducted
by Pierre Colomb with Julien Has (bar) as Macbeth and Genevieve
Moizan (sop) as Lady Macbeth. The work is to a text by Edmond
Fleg (who also provided the libretto for that other enigmatic
outsider of twentieth century opera: Enescu's Oedip).
Indeed Oedip, King Roger (Szymanowski) and Macbeth
can be counted in similar company. Of the three only Macbeth
awaits a first recording.
The present disc is of substantial value as
it makes easily accessible a collection of early Bloch works.
Hiver-Printemps: The Debussian
snowy climax of Hiver rises from tentative strands and
threads of reflective and uncertain mien. It is like a chilled
Tchaikovskian snow scene with the susurration of Rachmaninov's
Isle of the Dead and the mystery of The Firebird's
lowest registers. The musette-style naiveté of Printemps
can be grouped with The Song Of My Heart from Frank Bridge's
orchestral Jefferies Poems of 1915.
Poèmes D'Automne can be
thought of as a Ravelian song-cycle profuse compounded with
the profuse 'undergrowth' of Havergal Brian's Wine of Summer
symphony. It is often dark and has those semitic 'wails' typifying
Schelomo. The third of the four songs is a calm march-exequy
for beauty's twilight. The cycle ends with florid Invocation
which has a grand swinging stride recalling the final moments
of Ma Mere l'Oye.
In the Night is the one late work
in the company of so many early ones. It is an orchestration
of a piece, originally for violin and piano, and in it Bloch
explores the sombre touching on the darker sea-space passages
in Debussy's La Mer.
To bring the disc to a close there are three
psalm settings. The Two Psalms (114 and 137) are in three
movements: a prelude and two settings for soprano. The Prelude's
confident truculence melts in the face romantic mists closer
to early Schoenberg. The settings sung by Brigitte Balleys with
visceral engagement, operatic spirit and petulant vehemence
are amongst his 'Jewish' works - fiercely devotional and in
the case of Psalm 137 ravishingly rhapsodic. Psaume
22 has the trademark brassy flourish conjuring the exotic
barbarity of Solomon's court as well as religious devotion set
off by the discomfiting edge of danger. Le Texier tends towards
vibrato under strain but this is a small price to pay for yet
more 'operatic' Bloch. Le Texier successfully suggests the metier
of Au Fond Du Temple Saint.
Texts and translations are there plus fine notes
by Harry Halbreich.
An extremely fine production.