Shaham and Erez
have already recorded the Bloch sonatas, amongst other works,
on Hyperion CDA67439. It was therefore almost inevitable that
they would get around to the remaining two works here and for
Shaham to take on the challenges of the solo Suites. To form
a most appealing programme they together add two works by Ben-Haïm
and Shaham performs the same composer’s 1951 solo Sonata.
Let me dispose of
a potential obstruction first. The recordings are almost all
too close. The ambient noise is immediate and one can hear Shaham’s
anticipatory sniffs; it also makes for more abrasive bowing
than is ideal. Shaham of course is a first class musician but
he has been done few favours by the nature of the set-up.
That said one should
persevere because no matter how uncongenial the recorded sound
may sometimes become it does not seriously mitigate the nature
of the performances. These are truly inspiring. Shaham is unafraid
of liquid, quick portamenti in the Baal Shem Suite and
he is at pains to balance Hebraic fervour with high lying lyricism.
The harp-like ripple of the second movement is a testament to
Erez’s involving and colour-conscious playing. Shaham intelligently
varies his tone here – this is not an understated Nigun
but it is one that says a lot without saying too much. The joyous
buoyancy and culminatory exultation of the finale show how adept
the duo has been throughout – they pace the suite extremely
hébraïque is a three movement series of Jewish melodies.
Both men lighten their tones and tonal weight when most necessary.
Shaham for instance reserves greatest weight of tone and power
for the central Processional where his vibrato takes
on a riper display. The two solo Suites were written in 1958,
the year before Bloch’s death. They were commissioned by - and
dedicated to – Menuhin though the premieres were actually given
by Alberto Lysy. They’re compact four-movement works and clearly
Bachian in orientation. They possess moments of reflective lyricism
but show no diminution of power or control, and no easy acceptance
either. To the Bachian dance patterns Bloch adduces Hebraic
ones as well – especially in the third movement of the First
sonata. Perhaps the most moving of all is the Andante of the
second, a heartfelt and yet upliftingly noble utterance, played
with exceptional clarity by Shaham.
sonata was another work dedicated to Menuhin and it seems to
take Bloch as an active model. There are plenty of opportunities
for high lying writing and equally so in matters of dance drama
and bite. There are baroque elements at work as well and chant-like
moments in the central movement, ones that fuse the Mediterranean
with elements of late impressionism. The finale uses a Hora,
a dance that generates daemonic drive here. The two other works
by Ben-Haïm, Berceuse sfaradite and Improvisation
and Dance are respectively delicate and dramatic.
The playing is insightful,
expressive, and thoroughly idiomatic. These two musicians make
an articulate and important statement about both composers’ work.
Reservations concerning the actual recordings should be seen in