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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Quintet No 1 for Piano and Strings (1923)
Quintet No 2 for Piano and Strings (1957)
Suite No 1 for solo Cello (1956)
Pro Arte Quartet
Parry Karp (cello)
Recorded 1984-1991 (?)
LAUREL LR-848CD [70.39]


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Laurel’s dedication to Bloch’s grievously underrated chamber music has led to some laudable and permanently important additions to the catalogues, of which this issue proves a strong part. Alongside another Laurel/Pro Arte release – that of the second Quartet and other pieces for quartet (LR826 sample here) – this one proves to be commandingly well realised and to extend further our understanding of Bloch’s creative processes. The First Quintet was begun in 1921 and finished two years later. Originally intended as a cello sonata it was worked up into a more extensive form and achieves thematic unity through inter-related material as so often in Bloch. A big work in three movements it opens with motoric suspension and agitated piano writing, before releasing some uneasy material and starting up once again, the cello bending notes well as the music returns to the insistent, unceasing motor. The Andante mistico is full of a keening depth, becoming increasingly passionate before returning to the initial sense of mysterious contemplation. Marked Allegro energico the finale is precisely that in this committed performance – full of propulsive rhythmic attack and technical flourishes before it too slowly winds down to static oases of reflective intimacy, and ends, with perfect judgement of its musical graph, poignantly and quietly.

The Second Quintet of 1957 was written when Bloch realised that he was suffering from the cancer that was to kill him two years later. Its dodecaphonic first theme is followed by much intervallic writing, step up themes, motives that recur, are mulled over; this is occasionally stern music but never unyielding; its power lies in its compactness – the opening movement packs in considerable detail but remains lyrical and forward moving, never clotted. Amidst the rather lyrical but withdrawn Andante those step themes recur giving thematic coherence and interrelatedness to the work, adding to the poignancy, giving weight in amplitude. The finale is the longest of the three movements, the tritone motif again reappearing, and this time toughness and strong spirit dominates, the movement occasionally opening out motorically before the coda, which is a beautiful, though not explicitly emotive, end to the work; one in which serenity and hard won peace fuse to moving effect.

Bloch’s last works were a series of six remarkable compositions for solo strings. These were the three cello suites, the two suites for violin and the incomplete viola sonata (recorded by Primrose), and all dating from 1956-58. This First Cello Suite of 1956 was dedicated to the recently (2002) deceased Canadian cellist Zara Nelsova (as was the second). Opening in interior fashion it soon grows in lyric intensity whilst the second movement, an Allegro, features some guttural work on the lower two strings and a strongly powerful sense of projection. The Canzona is lyrical and exploits, this time, the upper strings, forlorn but unselfconscious and deeply attractive whilst the animated finale is vigorous, stormy and celebratory.

I strongly recommend this Laurel Bloch series in toto. The Pro Arte Quartet are strongly expressive interpreters of the genre and these are works very well worth getting to know. And knowledge will lead to lasting admiration.

Jonathan Woolf



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Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable Arcodiva
British Music Soc.
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Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


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