Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Suite No.1 for violin solo (1958) [10:42]
Suite No.2 for violin solo (1958) [10:53]
Sonata No.1 for violin and piano (1920) [28:33]
Sonata No.2 ‘Poème mystique’ for violin and piano (1924) [25:22]
Baal Shem (1923) [13:47]
Nuit exotique (1924) [8:43]
Abodah (1929) [6:18]
Melody (1929) [3:06]
Violin Concerto (1937-38) [34:58]
František Novotný (violin)
Serguei Milstein (piano)
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Tomáš Netopil
rec. March, May and June 2007, Prague Radio Studio, except November 2008, Brno Radio Studio (Concerto)
RADIOSERVIS CR0439-2 [72:49 + 67:18]
One of the greatest recordings of the Bloch Violin Concerto emanated from Czechoslovakia - that of the Canadian fiddle player Hyman Bress who, with the Prague Symphony and conductor Jindřich Rohan in 1967, left behind a classic account [Supraphon SU 3169-2 011]. Now we have a full Czech twofer containing nothing but Bloch violin works; the concerto in Brno with Tomáš Netopil and the chamber works either solo or with František Novotný’s colleague, Serguei Milstein. The result is an unusually helpful and concentrated conspectus.
The Concerto is the first, most obvious place to start. Here Novotný and Netopil have clearly decided to take quite a radical, fast first movement tempo. I don’t think I have ever heard it taken this quickly, in fact. Nevertheless if the attempt is to bind the concerto tighter it’s a valid approach, even if one fails to endorse it. The performance is certainly intense and powerful, though Novotný doesn’t phrase as imaginatively as Bress, and I would have preferred less spotlighting of wind statements; indeed would have preferred the winds back inside the orchestral fabric.
Novotný is certainly a powerful player who plays the Suites with bold trenchancy. He doesn’t withdraw his tone as does Hagai Shaham [Hyperion CDA67571], whose Hyperion Bloch/Ben-Haïm disc I also admired. He also tends to phrase in a more angular way in both suites, and takes a rather lither way through them, as his Concerto performance might lead one to imagine. If you want performances unarguably resinous and present, then Novotný is the man. His sonatas with Milstein are similarly committed and strong hewn. Still, for all this trenchancy they do also manage to locate the Szymanowski-like elements that run throughout both sonatas. They’re especially good at the finale of the First when conveying the ‘hard slog’ rhythms and perhaps even better in the rhapsodic Second where there is noble pathos, prayer-like cadences and an exciting final peroration.
There’s no doubt that Novotný favours a no-nonsense, muscular approach to this repertoire. His Baal Shem is notable for a forthright, fast Vidui. He’s appropriately Szymanowskian once again in the Nuit exotique - a lovely, luscious piece - and deals adeptly with the once more prayer-evoking Abodah.
The notes are good and the engineering, whether for the Brno concerto performance, or for the Prague chamber ones, is solid with a good balance. Despite the fast first movement, I prefer this performance to the recent Naxos one I reviewed. It’s not the equal of the Bress, or indeed Totenberg except in terms of sound quality. But it does offer a comprehensive take on the violin works in one handy package. And the performances are fiery.
The performances are fiery.