The Israeli conductor
Dalia Atlas has already carved out a
reputation as a Bloch specialist. There
is at least one ASV disc of orchestral
music conducted by her. It includes
the early and epic Bloch Symphony.
Here Atlas contributes
a new recording of Bloch's America.
This was written in sincere tribute
to the composerís adopted homeland.
It was completed in 1926 two years after
he had become an American citizen. The
joint dedication is to Lincoln and Walt
two earlier nationalistic works to make
a triptych of sorts: the Symphony Israel
(recorded on Vanguard) and a work
very similar in approach to America,
Helvetia. Helvetia was
recently issued by Cascavelle for the
The movements of America
are: I 1620: The Soil - The Indians
- (England) - The Mayflower - The Landing
of the Pilgrims [19:42]; II 1861-1865:
Hours of Joy - Hours of Sorrow [15:46];
III The Present - The Future (Anthem)
The Soil picks
up on the mysteries of the country's
prehistory in music wreathed in brooding
and expectation. At 8.02 this gives
way to grand Handelian writing referring
to the English connection via the Pilgrim
Fathers. A sense of pioneer struggle
can be heard from 11.33 onwards. The
language canbe likened to early Howard
Hanson with cross-currents from Vaughan
Williams and Sibelius all mingled with
an exotic sway. Atlas's attention to
dynamics is very pronounced and she
brings out some telling moments.
The big second movement
charts the four years of the American
Civil War in contemplative language.
Thankfully there is no attempt at a
Battle of Vittoria. A great melody
akin to Shenandoah can be heard
at 3.00. It is given the full sleepy
Delian effect (Appalachia, Sea
Drift and Brigg Fair) meshed
with hints of distant fanfares (5:01).
Kodaly's lovely orchestral piece Summer
Evening is also not that far distant
from Bloch's writing here. After such
extended reflection the spirit of battle
and discord can be heard at 10:02 with
snatches of mingled Confederate and
Union songs flung around the scenery.
The shuddering remnants of John Brown's
Body emerge at 12:12 as the music
recedes into the warmth and melancholy
from which it rose. A mysterious trumpet
solo sounds out commandingly without
braggartry recalling Ives' Unanswered
The last movement examines
the then present (1926) and the
future. This is a wild amalgam of industrial
frenetic production, jazzy frivolity,
recollections of the hieratic trumpet
figure serve to unify the three movements
(2:47). A Kodaly-like interlude of calm
lyrical expectation is reminiscent of
Galanta and The Peacock. The
music gradually gathers a nobility recalling
John Ireland's These Things Shall
Be and the choral finale of Joly
Braga-Santos's Fourth Symphony. The
Rhapsody ends with the anthem America!
America! to Bloch's own fervent
words. The singing is in unison. The
melody of this paean to nationhood is
similar in style to the sort of trio
counter-melody Walton contributed to
his coronation marches Orb and Sceptre
and Crown Imperial.
This is not America's
first recording. That honour belongs
to a Vanguard LP in which the Symphony
of the Air were conducted by Stokowski.
This found its way on to a Vanguard
CD though I have never seen a copy.
There is also a long gone Schwarz Delos
version as well. The Schwarz came in
for some real stick when first issued:
under-characterised. Itís not a disc
Iíve heard as yet.
from a discursive rhapsodic approach
for which the historical subtext only
partially compensates. Nevertheless
Ms Atlas makes the most of its strengths.
My memory tells me that she leaves a
more indelible impression than Stokowski.
Lastly comes the Suite
HébraÏque for violin
and orchestra. This dates from the early
1950s and exists in versions for both
viola and violin; with piano or with
orchestra. It was premiered by the violist
Milton Preves with the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Kubelik on 1
January 1953. In the case of this Naxos
version I wondered if the Rapsodie
(tr. 4) was intended to be so heavy-shod.
This contrasts with the steady stride
of Processional and the florally
decorative and slightly earnest Affirmation
finale. For such a late work the
Suite is accessible and in the last
movement catchily memorable.
This will be a surefire
winner for Bloch specialists and also
for those intrigued by patriotic immigrant
These are both good
performances and I greatly liked Shaham's
sturdy singing tone.