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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1920) [28:42]
Violin Sonata No.2 Poème mystique (1924) [20:24]
Baal Shem Suite; Nigun (1923) [6:33]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Fratres: version for violin and piano (1980) [9:07]
Elsa Grether (violin)
Ferenc Vizi (piano)
rec. July 2012, Flagey, Studio 4, Brussels
FUGA LIBERA FUG711 [64:52]

A notable feature of this recording of Bloch’s Second Sonata is how the engineers have managed to vest the playing, as do the musicians themselves, with the kind of ethereal sound necessary fully to project its superscriptive name, Poème mystique. Elsa Grether takes pains to imbue the music with a quicksilver mystery, but it’s not one that hangs around. Grether and her fine colleague Ferenc Vizi are a good two minutes faster than the team of Novotný and Tomáš Netopil on Radio Servis [CRO439-2]. Their more elliptical, questioning and brisk approach takes the opening Andante moderato section determinedly; this work is where Bloch comes closest to the mystical sound world of Szymanowski and on the basis of this performance I’d be interested to hear Grether and Vizi play Mythes. The Chasidic recitative later in the music works well, and bowing is intense, chording taut but not scrunchy. This is a good partnership. As an index of her commitment, the violinist’s sniffs are picked up.
 
The First Sonata offers similarly divergent approaches. Grether offers more rubato in the opening paragraph, Novotný remaining more rhythmic and metrical. It’s a question of rhythmic fluidity and also a question of whether you prefer a deterministic or a more provisional approach. Grether is slower than the Czech fiddler in the central slow movement, where he cultivates just a degree more tonal body at his faster tempo, but Vizi unfolds those rippling arpeggios with considerable allure. To show the variable nature of both performances - proportions are very much individualistic - the Greter/Vizi team are faster in the finale, though the Czech pairing manages to evoke rather more of the folkloric inspirations here. The peals in the Czech performance are perhaps rather more charismatic, the playing just a touch more earthy.
 
There was certainly room for the whole of Baal Shem so I think it was a shame only to have presented the inevitable Nigun. And whilst I rather like Arvo Pärt’s ubiquitous Fratres, why not an all-Bloch CD? Why miss out Abodah, and the 1929 Melody, indeed why omit Nuit exotique? All would have fitted in very well, and rounded off the disc more comprehensively.
 
That caveat duly noted, I liked these performances.
 
Jonathan Woolf  

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