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Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Four Episodes (1926) [15:06] (Humoresque macabre [3:04]; Obsession [3:23]; Calm [4:53]; Chinese [3:47])
Two Poems (Winter-Spring) (1905) [13:59] (Winter [6:16]; Spring [7:43])
Concertino for Flute, Viola and Strings (1948) [9:20]
Suite Modale for Flute and Strings (1956) [14:04]
Noam Buchman (flute) (Concertino; Suite); Yuri Gandelsman (viola) (Concertino);
Soloists of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Four Episodes)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Two Poems);
Atlas Camerata Orchestra/Dalia Atlas (Concertino; Suite)
rec. 31 October 2005, Yaffo Tel Aviv Music Center (Episodes); 28-29 June 2006, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio (Two Poems); 31 October 2001, Bloch Concert Hall, Haifa (Concertino; Suite). DDD
Naxos 8.570259 [52:29] 

The fact that none of these somewhat rare works by Bloch are first recordings bodes well for his discography. None of them fall into his well-known “Jewish” or “Neo-classical” periods. In this, her third volume of Bloch orchestral music for Naxos, Dalia Atlas – who also supplies the liner-note - deals with smaller-scale works. But the pieces here are all worthy of the same attention given to the better–known works. They show aspects of his musical personality that one could not discover elsewhere. 

The works here span the composer’s career. The Two Poems date from 1905 and are among the first in which he freed himself from the prevailing Straussian aesthetic of the time. They are linked melodically with the first (Winter), betraying a sort of Russian nostalgia and having an effective central section. Perhaps the performers add to the Slavic melancholy. Spring is more impressionistic and naturally more spirited, reminiscent of Dukas and once or twice of Henry Hadley. Unfortunately the recording is bass-heavy and somewhat too reverberant, although the woodwind are to be commended. 

The Four Episodes jump more than twenty years forward to 1926 and have little in the way of Jewish or Neo-classical qualities. The work derives from a less evident stylistic fusion and is scored for wind quintet, string quintet and piano. From this the composer derives an almost orchestral sound and the use of the woodwinds is again felicitous. Interestingly the first piece, Humoresque, is built around a single figure and is just as “obsessive” as the second piece. Suggestions of Bach, various French composers and of the Dies Irae periodically surface in Obsession. Calm is just what is needed after its predecessors and already shows a slight American influence. The last piece, Chinese, evokes Bloch’s love of Chinese Theaters and also makes reference to the previous pieces. It is not your typical chinoiserie. 

The Concertino and the Suite Modale were written after the Second World War and demonstrate an increased interest in writing for the flute, an instrument that Bloch had always loved. The combination of flute and viola with strings in the Concertino is reminiscent of Holst's Fugal Concerto and demonstrates a similar concern with pre-Classical forms. The first movement evinces traits of some of the American composers of the time; Bloch had finally settled there. It slides into a slower movement which is one of the most affecting I have heard by him before the finale demonstrates the composer’s fugal ability which in turn ends in a polka! 

One of Bloch’s last works was the Suite Modale for Flute and Strings. In these last years the composer added an interest in modality to all this other styles. This work overall is more meditative than the Concertino, especially in the first movement which is perfectly suited to the flute. The second movement is in the same tempo as the first but has a totally different feel, more like that of the Concertino. The allegro giocoso has a beautiful middle section that is again evocative of pre-Classical music. The last movement is the most substantial and would seem from its tempo listings to be a decisive, energetic piece, but it ends reflectively and almost sadly. 

With three ensembles in three different halls it is a little difficult to discuss the recording quality of this disc. It can be said that the Israeli halls interfere less with the sound of the music. Noam Buchman does a wonderful job with the extended flute passages in the two late works, although in the Suite some listeners may prefer the more dynamic Alexa Still on Koch International. There is a good recording of Winter-Spring by David Shallon (review) on Timpani but I find Atlas’s performances more authentic and indeed her conducting of the entire disc is exemplary.

William Kreindler




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