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From Jewish Life – Music for Cello and Orchestra
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)

Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody (1916) [21:45]
Prayer – from the suite From Jewish Life (1924) arr. cello & strings; orch. Jonathan Aasgaard [4:56]
David DIAMOND (1915-2005)

Kaddish for cello and orchestra [11:13]
Gerard SCHWARZ (b.1947)

In Memoriam for cello and string orchestra (2005) [8:33]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Kol Nidrei – Adagio on Hebrew Melodies Op.47 for cello and orchestra (1880) [11:18]
Jonathan Aasgaard (cello)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 31 October 2005
AVIE AV2149 [58:10]

Experience Classicsonline


 A well played disc – but a rather maudlin one, programmatically. The Elegiac-Hebraic nature of the compositions means that it’s inadvisable to play this hour’s worth successively; some judicious sampling alleviated by some scherzo reprieve is, I think, the best way to approach From Jewish Life.

Which is not to criticise the performers or the performances. Jonathan Aasgaard is a highly accomplished, indeed aristocratic player who, though given to anticipatory sniffs, reveals an assured technique, tonal colour and a real instinct for the melancholy vested in these works. He also shows that he is no mean arranger in his Prayer adaptation. In the biggest work here, the evergreen Schelomo, he proves much more equable an orator than the more frenetic, immediate and intense Feuermann in his classic reading with Barzin. Aasgaard is careful not to reveal all his secrets too soon, something in which Schwarz joins him; they don’t come out guns blazing, preferring incrementally to ratchet the tension, to allow its evocative allure to work like a saline drip, not a hypodermic syringe. For hypo lovers you have Feuermann or, less so, the Piatigorsky from days of yore. Don’t be misled by the slightly trudging-grudging quality of the earlier part of the performance; the reading never really blazes but it does have its own truthfulness.

Prayer – from the suite by Bloch that gives its name to the disc – is heard in the cellist’s own arrangement for cello and string orchestra and a splendid one it is. Only a louse would fail to be moved by Prayer and this performance, newly garbed, is warmly sympathetic. David Diamond, who died in 2005, is represented by Kaddish. It’s a reflective piece in which the cello adopts the cantorial role and the orchestra responds to it; that said there is an increasingly passionate surge from the orchestra, giving the music a binary force and wholeness. The conductor Gerard Schwarz contributes a touching In Memoriam for the Russian-born cellist David Tonkonogui, who died young, and who taught Schwarz’s son. It is, in effect, a tripartite portrait that stresses the melancholy of things but not at the expense of more enduringly lyric qualities. Finally there is Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, which is phrased with a similar kind of restraint that permeated the Bloch.

With the proviso that the programme hardly makes for especially natural sequential listening, this well-recorded selection brings gravitas and eloquence in performances of stature.

Jonathan Woolf




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