This interesting and enjoyable disc showcases a range of music
for the viola by the Swiss-born composer Ernest Bloch. It is variously
with orchestra, with piano accompaniment, solo and with a string
Karen Elaine's playing has a warm mellow quality
which suits the music well and the technical quality of the
disc is also very good. Ms Elaine has contributed beyond her
playing by also arranging Nigun, composing a posthumous
ending for the unaccompanied suite - Bloch's last work, which
he died without completing - and writing helpful and informative
notes which accompany the CD.
The opening work - Suite Hébraïque -- is
a concerto in all but name, albeit a brief one. It is perhaps
the most straightforward and successful work here, and makes
a good opening. Each of the three short movements is based on
a different aspect of Jewish liturgical practice. The first
evokes the call of the shofar - a ram's horn blown during the
services of the high holy days: the new year and the day of
Atonement. The second - processional - is inspired by the Torah
scroll being carried around the synagogue for members of the
congregation to touch with their prayer shawl as a sign of devotion.
The third - affirmation - is a March representing the elevation
of the Torah scroll in front of the entire congregation. Aside
and apart from its overtly religious elements, it is also a
musically pleasing work with the different elements contrasting
with each other and then coming to a resolution.
In the following, and much longer, Suite the viola
is accompanied by piano. This much-earlier work lacks the concise
quality of its predecessor. It has a very pleasant slow third
movement with Brahmsian influences and an excellent closing
section which draws together its rather disparate elements.
It is strongly influenced by eastern European dance melodies.
There is then a work for unaccompanied viola in the 12-tone
genre, found in a minority of Bloch's compositions. This demonstrates
and gives an example of this aspect of the composer's output.
However, in comparison with the other works it seems a little
constrained by the formality of compositional technique.
The beautiful closing work is again an explicitly
religious one, an example of a nigun, here written for
viola plus string quartet. A nigun is a wordless devotional
piece, associated with now-trendy kabalistic tradition and with
the hassidim. It is intended to create a spiritual path
towards higher consciousness. The piece is divided into sections
called "Gates", each of which has to be repeated twice.
Its pace needs to be slow, reflective and pensive.
"A nigun brings a surge of new life and healing,
sweetens the bitter soul and fills a home with light - as the
song sung by David for King Saul which healed his bitter spirit."
This is a spiritual path which is unlikely to be
well-known, and the present recording offers an insight into
it as well as a piece of music which is enjoyable in itself.
It has a haunting and uplifting beauty which would be apparent
to listeners of any background.
in Switzerland, Bloch's life was divided between America, which
eventually became his home, and Europe. He was significant not
only as a composer but as an orchestral conductor and also as
a teacher. His music is attracting considerable interest in this
fiftieth anniversary of the year of his death. Further information
can be found on the Ernest Bloch website and
another very informative website
is produced by Claude Torres of Montpellier, France who is a recognised
authority on Bloch's life and work.
Karen Elaine, who takes the solo role here, has
won a number of competitions in her native California. She has
the interesting distinction of accolades not only in the musical
world but also for scuba diving. This unusual combination of
talents is evoked by the cover illustration, Still Life with
Viola by Boris Hecht, which features a large spiny seashell
as well as the instrument. She has a long-standing collaboration
with the conductor David Amos, each having links with the University
of San Diego. The LSO are precise yet graceful and never overshadow
slightly obscure disc is a little quaint but has its own distinctive
charm. It showcases both the instrument and the composer, both
of which are seldom in the limelight. With so much classical music
strongly connected to Christianity, it is interesting to hear
works influenced explicitly by a different religious tradition.