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Laurel records




Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Cello Music

Meditation Hébraïque for cello and piano (1924) [6:44]
From Jewish Life for cello and piano (Prayer, Supplication, Jewish Dance) (1924) [10:17]
Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello (1956-7) [14:26]
Suite No. 2 for Solo Cello (1956-7) [22:18]
Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello (1956-7) [14:21]
Parry Karp (cello)
Francis Karp (piano)
rec. Gilbert Recording Studio, Los Angeles, CA, 5 January 1990 (suites); 15 August 1992. ADD
LAUREL LR-865CD [68:19]


These aren’t new recordings. They were made back in 1990 though I’m not sure if all were released at the time. The first Cello Suite certainly was, on LR-848-CD though it’s long since been deleted.

What can’t be denied is the effectiveness of the playing. Whether tackling the solo suites or joining with Frances Karp, Parry Karp proves a laudable guide to the repertoire. Some of the smaller pieces can be difficult to convey without exaggeration but both Karps prove more than capable of keeping within stylistic boundaries whilst also managing to project the spirit of the music with flair and feeling.

Meditation Hébraïque was written in 1924 for Casals, a musician whose own spirit moves powerfully through the music. His espousal of the Bach cello suites was a strong incentive to Bloch to write his own. The Meditation takes the cello eventfully low in its register to the kind of guttural eloquence of which Casals was himself a master. It’s tailor made for the Catalan both emotively and tonally. It’s also a piece powerfully responsive to the human voice and to humanity in its widest sense.

The three pieces From Jewish Life are well conveyed as well. One can imagine magnificent cantors such as a David Roitman or a Mordecai Hershman intoning the first, the Prayer. The intense rabbinic expression is sustained to the end and the little melismas attest to the humanly vocalised heart of the writing. Of course this is a much arranged piece but it still works best in its starkest and best imagined form for cello and piano. Supplication is keen edged, replete with quarter tones. And the Jewish Dance is a study in a kind of interior dialogue that grows in declamatory power towards a truly passionate outburst – all very well judged and graded in this performance. The rather dry acoustic oddly adds to the sense of immediacy even if it’s not always entirely flattering to Parry Karp’s tone.

The three Suites are important additions to the twentieth century solo cello repertoire. The first two were inspired by the Canadian cellist Zara Nelsova who was once upon a time known in her pre-War days in the Canadian Trio as “Nelson”. I’m not aware that any performance by her has survived. The First is comprehensively well characterised, from the dancery of the Prelude to the austere lyricism of the Canzona. The allegro finale is an ebullient riposte to earlier reflection and a fitting summation to a concisely turbulent work. The second Suite is again cast in four movements. The opening is a slow meditation and the Allegro that follows is a gutty and brooding movement with attaca defiance and tenacious writing generally.  The slow movement is long but never seems dangerously so.  And the finale is restless but increasingly confident.

The third Suite is the only one cast in five movements. The greater length however doesn’t encourage any diffusion of focus. The central allegro is as confident as in the earlier suites. In the Andante Bloch touches the most sombre of feelings – death was not far away for him – but his finale, a dynamic Allegro giocoso, is triumphant and hopeful.

Excellent performances are enhanced by the booklet documentation. The result is an important document for Bloch adherents.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett



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