RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Ernest BLOCH (1880 - 1959)
Schelomo (1916) [20:06]
From Jewish Life (1924, arr. Christopher Palmer) [8:25]
Voice in the Wilderness (1936) [23:55]
Max BRUCH (1838 - 1920)
Kol Nidrei Op.47 (1881) [9:03]
Natalie Clein (cello)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov
rec. City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, 7-8 September 2011
HYPERION CDA67910 [61:30]
Schelomo is certainly Bloch's most popular work. Every cellist has it in his or her repertoire, and quite rightly so given its colour, warm lyricism and impassioned abandon. It addresses the audience in a fairly straightforward way. Bloch originally thought of setting Solomon's words to music but eventually was not convinced that existing translations in French, German or English were suitable. He also had to admit that his grasp of Hebrew was inadequate. (This information is drawn from Alexander Knapp's excellent notes.) Bloch let the Russian cellist Alexandre Barjansky hear some of his sketches. Barjansky liked what he heard and this convinced Bloch that the cello might be the solution to his problem. Schelomo speaks for itself and its pages are imbued with the cello's nobility while the orchestra draws a colourful backdrop to the cello's song. It may be interesting to note that at about 15 minutes in there is a quite magical episode that will find its way some time later into Bloch's Sacred Service. I had not heard Schelomo for many years and I had forgotten what a beautiful piece it is.
The three short movements of From Jewish Life were originally written for cello and piano. On the whole these are fairly simple, straightforward and attractive sketches. This release features the late Christopher Palmer's deft scoring for strings and harp which just brings additional colour and weight without disfiguring the simplicity of the original.
Voice in the Wilderness is less well-known than Schelomo although avid record collectors will remember a Decca LP coupling both works played by Janos Starker and conducted by Zubin Mehta. I have never heard that record; this is my first encounter with Bloch's last major work for cello and orchestra. It seems that it started life as a suite for piano Visions et Prophécies which still exists as an independent work (Fingerhut on Chandos CHAN9887; Kassai on Marco Polo 8.223289). However, Bloch decided to add a cello part and was able to complete the cello-and-piano version in 1935 and the orchestral version in 1936. Although it plays continuously the music falls into six contrasted movements, each of which has an orchestral introduction stating material upon which the cello then meditates. The fifth movement includes a cadenza that leads into the final and longest movement marked Allegro gioiso. When listening to this marvellous performance I kept wondering why Voice in the Wilderness never attained the same status as the ubiquitous Schelomo. I could not find any satisfying answer.
This most desirable release is completed by a very fine performance of Max Bruch's well-known Kol Nidrei Op.47 in which Bruch states a German synagogue chant and the middle section of a song by the Anglo-Jewish composer Isaac Nathan. This compact, neatly constructed short work seems to reflect much of the Jewish or Hebrew soul which led some to speculate on Bruch's Jewish identity. His earliest known ancestor Thomas Bruch was in fact the first in a long line of Christian clerics.
As already suggested earlier in this review this is a magnificent release that commends itself. Natalie Clein is a superbly equipped musician with a wonderful technique and a deep, refined musicality. Her playing is a pure joy from first to last. There surely are more brilliant or more impassioned readings of Schelomo but hers is certainly one of most subtle. She never overstates things and lets the music speak for itself. Subtle and refined is how I would describe both her playing and her deeply committed approach to brilliant scores that invite exaggerated gestures. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Volkov prove the ideal partner. The coupling would be enough to make this release a must for all admirers of Bloch's music, but there is much more than that in this magnificent release.
Superb readings and recording of Bloch's output for cello and orchestra, a must-have for all his admirers.