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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Four Episodes (1926) [15:06] (Humoresque macabre [3:04]; Obsession [3:23]; Calm [4:53]; Chinese [3:47])
Two Poems (Winter-Spring) (1905) [13:59] (Winter [6:16]; Spring [7:43])
Concertino for Flute, Viola and Strings (1948) [9:20]
Suite Modale for Flute and Strings (1956) [14:04]
Noam Buchman (flute) (Concertino; Suite); Yuri Gandelsman (viola) (Concertino);
Soloists of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Four Episodes)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Two Poems);
Atlas Camerata Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Concertino; Suite)
rec. 31 October 2005, Yaffo Tel Aviv Music Center (Episodes); 28-29 June 2006, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio (Two Poems); 31 October 2001, Bloch Concert Hall, Haifa (Concertino; Suite). DDD
NAXOS 8.570259 [52:29] 


Ernest Bloch is remembered today primarily for his cello and orchestra work, Schelomo. It remains a mystery why more of his music isn’t performed with any regularity. His music is individual enough, easy to absorb, and very colorful. Occasionally, one gets to hear his first Concerto Grosso and Violin Concerto, but not much else. The string quartets and Violin Concerto ought to belong in the twentieth-century standard repertoire, but such is not the case. Dalia Atlas, the conductor of the recordings under review, has made a real effort to reverse this, having done extensive research on Bloch and recorded nearly 20 of his orchestral works for ASV and Naxos. She also writes the informative program note in the booklet accompany this CD. Admittedly, she greatly overstates Bloch’s importance in the history of music by stating that Bloch was “recognized and appreciated during his lifetime as a successor to Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.” Nevertheless, Bloch does not deserve the general neglect he has received and this recording should help the cause. 

The first work on this CD is the four-movement suite entitled Four Episodes. It is scored for eleven instruments: string quintet, wind quintet, and piano. The first movement, Humoresque macabre, reminds me in its rhythmical element of the first Concerto Grosso, which is scored for strings and piano obbligato. The movement also contains a few wind solos that have a Jewish flavor, typical of this composer’s works of the period. The second movement, Obsession, consists of a catchy tune and 24 continuous variations. The third movement, Pastoral (as given in the booklet, but Calm on back of the jewel case), lives up to its title with its wind solos producing a nostalgic flavor. One of its themes is quite similar to a tune in Kodály’s Peacock Variations. The suite ends with a movement appropriately titled Chinese with its use of the pentatonic scale. 

Next on the disc come Two Poems that depict winter and spring, respectively. These are early works and are more romantic than the others on the disc. They are scored for full orchestra. Hiver (winter) is filled with sadness and nostalgia, while Printemps (spring) is typically joyful, but contains a big orchestral climax and then ends quietly. Both are lovely and rather Delian in character. 

The disc’s third work is a three-movement Concertino for flute, viola, and strings. It uses modal scales as does the Suite Modale concluding the disc. These are late pieces that show Bloch being true to himself. His style remained primarily romantic, and his later works could be called old-fashioned by the composer’s detractors. However, there is something genuine about them that stays with the listener. The Concertino begins with a haunting viola solo, but before long the flute joins in dialogue with the viola and the strings. The second movement is a contrasting Andante introduced by the lower strings and then picked up by viola and flute with string accompaniment. The third movement is a fugue with an intermezzo followed by a concluding polka that ends the work in high spirits. 

The Suite Modale for flute and strings is a four-movement work. It begins with a very oriental-sounding flute solo and maintains its quiet modality throughout the first two movements. The third movement, in A-B-A form, is a gigue followed by a slower section with the gigue returning. The final movement is nearly as long as the first three together. It consists of two contrasted sections—an alternating Adagio and an Allegro, with the movement ending quietly and wistfully. As a whole, the suite is a mood piece, but it also provides the flute with plentiful virtuosity. 

All the performances from the various groups are excellent and the recorded sound is consistently superb. Special mention should be made of flutist Noam Buchman, who has both the technique and a beautiful tone. Yuri Gandelsman’s viola solos in the Concertino are also praiseworthy, and Dalia Atlas obviously has a real affinity for the music of Bloch. Again Naxos has come up with a real winner that should make new converts to Bloch’s music. If you think Bloch wrote only Schelomo, you should sample this disc.

Leslie Wright

see also Review by William Kreindler



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