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Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Cello Sonata (1897) [15:16]
Cello Suite arr. from Suite for Viola (1919) by Gábor Rejtő and Adolph Baller [32:04]
Nigun: Improvisation from Baal Shem, Pictures of Chassidic Life (1923) arr. Joseph Schuster [6:50]
Meditation Hébraïque for cello and piano (1924) [6:36]
From Jewish Life for cello and piano (PrayerSupplication, Jewish Dance) (1925) [9:27]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
rec. April 2015, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI5943 [70:14]

Raphael Wallfisch and John York continue their journey through the cello and piano repertoire for Nimbus in a disc that focuses securely on the music of Bloch. They are by no means the first duo to disinter the early 1897 Sonata, written when Bloch was just 17, but it’s a work they have emended somewhat, ensuring that the cello’s contribution at ‘important climaxes’ (in John York’s words in the notes) is audible, given that the composer simply allowed the piano to play through solo in the original manuscript. It’s a bipartite work with a fast opening followed by a slow conclusion, and the late-Romanticism embodies Gallic elements, possibly infused via his teacher, the Swiss-born Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, as well as passages that sound almost stormily Straussian.

To this early work the Wallfisch-York duo adds something of a discographic curio – the transcription for cello of the 1919 Viola Suite. This was the work that famously beat Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata to win the Coolidge competition. The transcription was undertaken by Gábor Rejtő, the distinguished cellist of the Paganini and Hungarian Quartets, and Adolph Baller, the eminent pianist. They formed a duo and recorded together, though hardly prolifically. The transcription is highly effective emphasising once again just how fluid are the music’s transitions, notably from sombreness to ripe dance paragraphs. York brings out those stalking piano figures in the opening movement whilst the vivid moods of the unstable second movement are also well evoked. Well-judged dynamics and a fine balance aid interpretative decision-making no end in this successful realisation.

It was another distinguished cellist, Joseph Schuster, who arranged Nigun for his own instrument allowing the cantorial role to be given to the cello. This and From Jewish Life establish the ‘Jewish’ Bloch in performances that eloquently evoke these elements but refrain from indulging them. That’s a trait that applies to the Méditation hébraïque as well, composed for Casals in 1924, the year between the composition Baal Shem and From Jewish Life.
These articulate and thoughtful performances have been given a similarly fine recording.

Jonathan Woolf



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