MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



Laurel Records

Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Concerto (1930-38) [32.41]
Suite No. 1 for violin solo (1958 [9.17]
Suite No. 2 for violin solo (1958) [9.48]
Mischa Lefkowitz (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Freeman
rec. 1984?, All Saints Cathedral, London, England, (concerto); 1989, Gilbert Recording Studio, Los Angeles California, USA (suites). ADD
Violin Concerto first released in 1985 on Laurel LP-134.
Error processing SSI file

The Violin Concerto came after Schelomo and the Suite Hébraïque. It was premiered by Szigeti in 1938 with the Cleveland Orchestra under Mitropoulos. The work was slow in the writing. Its earliest beginning came from a phrase that Bloch wrote down when studying native American music in New Mexico. In 1909 Bloch had been conductor for the young Szigeti in a performance of the Mendelssohn concerto - surely being reminisced at 13:58 in the first movement of this recording of the concerto. Szigeti became a celebrity champion of Bloch’s music and recorded the Violin Concerto with Munch and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra in 1939. This has been widely reissued on CD. It can be heard on Pearl GEMM9938, Symposium 1226, Lys and more accessibly on Naxos 8.110973 coupled with the magical Prokofiev First Concerto (Beecham) [review]. There are two live Szigeti performances from 1939, one with Mengelberg (Music & Arts) and another with Beecham and the LPO which has so far only appeared on Beecham Society LP WSA-5. Thanks to Mark Obert-Thorn and others on the r.m.c.r newsgroup for this discographical information.

Lefkowitz is up against various alternative recordings. Roman Totenberg (one of Lefkowitz’s teachers) [review] produced a fine version in 1960 although the Vanguard reissue is now no longer available. Lefkowitz is good at the tense quicksilver of Bloch’s shifting moods. There is I think more aggression in Totenberg’s version even though the orchestral climaxes are better, though not ideally, handled by Laurel. Intriguing that in the finale at 6:10 Bloch shows that he has heard Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto.

Speaking from memory Menuhin’s EMI Classics recording lacked fire and grip. This is something that could never be said of Lefkowitz’s way with the splendidly flammable suites 1 and 2. These will positively knock listeners off their seats such is their magnificent forcefulness. They are not at all cerebral works. The two suites were written to Menuhin’s commission in 1957 at Agate Beach, Oregon and the wildness of that coastline seems to blend with a luminous, even fierce, Bachian purity.

The recording of the Concerto is the handiwork of Anthony Hodgson and Bob Auger. It shows a wonderful front-to-back depth, never so vividly registered as in the first movement at 2.42. The analogue recording is full of resonant detail and has an agreeable warmth that stays the right side of blurring the focus. That said, the big brassy statements in the first and last movement are not really gritty enough. The recording venue’s ambience is palpable in the silence that follows the end of the first movement. The violin overall is given a Heifetz balance with a very strong slightly left-hand speaker presence. As for timbre the violin has a caramel viscosity - splendidly lithe without being glutinous. Lefkowitz makes the instrument dance as it should in the finale (3:02) momentarily recalling Rozsa’s warm Hungarian evenings.

Herschel Burke Gilbert's Laurel label (now under the direction of John Gilbert) has done more than any other for Bloch. Recordings issued by them during the vinyl era are steadily being reissued on CD. We impatiently await the Pro Arte Quartet’s box of the five quartets (LR852-CD). Meantime this disc though not perfect offers many rewards and good sound. There’s no holds barred playing from Lefkowitz who is well inside the Bloch idiom.

Rob Barnett



Return to Index

Error processing SSI file