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Jewish Chamber Music for Viola and Piano
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)

Suite for Viola and Piano (1919)
Alexander WEPRIK (1899-1958)

Songs of the Dead, Op. 4 *
Kaddisch, Op. 6 *
Chant Rigoreux, Op. 9 *
Rhapsody, Op. 11 *
Alexander KREJN (1883-1951)

Ornaments, Op. 42
Michael GNESIN (1883-1957)

Minstrel's Song, Op. 34 *
Song of Marianne, Op. 37, No. 2 *
Grigorij GAMBURG (1900-1967)

Two pieces from "The Song of Songs", Op. 5 *
Tabea Zimmermann, viola
Jascha Nemtsov, piano
Recorded 6th- 7th October 1999, Kammermusikstudio SWR Stuttgart, Germany.
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.008 [78.28]

This is a beautifully played and recorded disc featuring material that make it a must for devotees of Bloch, Jewish music in general and the viola alike. Anyone who has bought and cherished Miriam Kramer's and Simon Over's Bloch disc for Naxos and their recital of Achron etc. on ASV should add this one to their collection. I also detect a strong kinship with, say, equivalent works of Vaughan Williams. For example, try the pentatonic and modal themes of the opening Rhapsody by Weprik. Here, even if you think you have never heard any Jewish music in your life, you may find the beatific hushed intensity of its second movement almost uncannily familiar. The faster sections of most of the pieces will also remind many of Bartók. I am probably letting my own musical personal preferences get the better of me here but this disc, as well as satisfying entirely on its own terms, draws together several loose ends and makes crystal clear the connection between various apparently disparate musics.

Krejn's Ornaments are rather more languorous than Weprik's music but still pack an emotional punch. Gnesin's Minstrel's Song bleeds gorgeous but haunted melodies in its two-minute time slot. Weprik returns with his Songs of the Dead, a harrowing, shape-shifting piece which uses the viola's spectral timbre to great effect. Even the following Kaddisch, in contrast to works of the same inspiration by Ravel, Diamond and others, remains in pretty dark territory, as befits its real meaning (prayer for the dead!). Relief is at hand with Gamburg's still predominantly introspective but less doom-laden Solomon inspirations. Bloch's half-hour long suite closes the disc and, like almost everything I have ever heard by him, from Baal Shem to America, comes across as a masterpiece. Like Hindemith, he seems to have had a relatively bad press, but here, as usual, the music speaks for itself. As in all the pieces on this disc, the writing for the viola evinces consummate skill, resulting in music which does full justice to the instrument’s capabilities. Whether deep in lament or initiating a Jewish "hoe-down", the musicians perform with both devotion and inspiration. The final Molto vivo of the Bloch is as life-affirming a piece of chamber music I can think of, full of vigour and tunes alongside wistful meditations. A great disc and not just for specialists!

Neil Horner



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