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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Piano Quintet No. 1 (1923) [32.56]
Piano Quintet No. 2 (1957) [17.59]
Ivan Klánský (piano)
Kocian Quartet
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 21-22 Jan 2002. DDD
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD 250185 [50.46]

When Bloch took up Maud Alan's invitation to accompany her troupe on a tour of the USA he began a long if not unequivocal chapter of association with that country. He was there in Cleveland from 1916 to 1930 but returned for the Oregon years from 1939 to 1959. During this time, especially the final spell, he also spent long periods in Paris and Switzerland.

The quintets belong to each of the two sojourns. The First Quintet dates from the year before he took U.S. citizenship. Like the Second it is in three movements. The first is strenuous, angry and has a Hungarian twang. It lacks any Semitic flavour unlike the glorious Schelomo and the slightly less impressive Israel Symphony. The second movement is a masterfully concentrated mystic study sustained over 10.22. The finale is an exercise in Bartók-like aggression and excitement; Bloch's own Allegro Barbaro. There is a momentary edit blip in this movement (tr.3, 00.14).

The Second Quintet is much shorter. It inhabits some odd moods. The first movement suggests a surreal landscape - nothing atonal or serial just intense singing, obsessive and sharply searching activity. The Kocians and Klánský make much of the romantic surge. It sounds like a desperate film noir score. The sleepy otherworldliness of the central movement is related in atmosphere.

These two piano quintets fill a needy gap in the catalogues. Currently the Arabesque and Pro Arte recordings are unavailable. This is no stop gap and it is warmly commended to those interested in Bloch's chamber music.

Rob Barnett


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