ERNEST BLOCH (1880-1959)
Poèmes d'Automne (1906)
In the Night (1922)
Deux Psaumes (1912-14)
Psaume 22 (1913-14)
Mireille Delunsch (sop) Brigitte
Balleys (mezzo) Vincent Le Texier (bar)
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/David Shallon
rec Luxembourg, July and September
1999 TIMPANI 1C1052
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 concerto.
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.