ERNEST BLOCH. ISRAEL SYMPHONY (1916). Slovak Radio Orchestra, cond.
Dalia Atlas; with Adriana Kohutkova, Soprano, Katarina Kramolisova,
Soprano, Terezia Bajakova, Mezzo, Denisa Hamarova, Alto, Michal Macuha,
Baritone. SUITE FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA. (1919). Atlas Camerata
Orchestra, cond. Dalia Atlas; Yuri Gandelsman, Viola. ASV DCA1148.
AVAILABILITY: Issued in 2004. Berkshire Record Outlet, $5.99; Amazon
UK, 12.99 British pounds.
RECOMMENDATION: If you like Schelomo, you'll like this. My find of the
year, especially the suite.
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959, but given inexplicably-and prominently--wrong
dates by an editor of this otherwise superb release) came to America
from Switzerland, was the teacher of the composers Roger Sessions, George
Antheil, Randall Thompson, Quincy Porter, Halsey Stevens and Leon Kirchner,
among others, and shares the regrettable present neglect and relative
obscurity of these composers. This recording presents two of Bloch's
major works, the symphony from his Jewish Cycle (which included Schelomo)
and the viola suite, originally for viola and piano, and which dates
from around the end of the First World War.
The Israel Symphony (with a name suggested to Bloch by Romain Rolland-Bloch
was going to call it Fetes Juives) is an evocation of ancient Israel and
originally was intended to be the first of a huge three part work but
Bloch abandoned that idea at the end of the war. It includes some use
of traditional chants and horn calls and, according to the notes, some
Swiss folk songs. The premiere was in Carnegie Hall. It is in three
movements, beginning with a short, slow and solemn movement which Bloch
meant to be meditative, and ending with a largely vocal movement. The
long middle movement, marked allegro agitato, and associated by Bloch
with Yom Kippur, has an intense and clamorous opening but the mood
alternated between that and pensive intervals. The recording annotator,
Alexander Knapp, calls it "bold and sometimes barbaric," At one point
there is a seeming triple rhythm, no doubt not written that way but with
the melody coming between rapid fire trumpets and slower drumbeats. The
movement ends quietly but proceeds to the final movement without pause,
marked by a harp interlude, with quiet muted trumpet playing before and
after that. After about four minutes of purely instrumental music, the
five soloists begin to enter, with a text by Bloch. About this section,
Knapp says that a "contemplative, pastoral atmosphere combines religious
and sensual elements."
I prefer the Suite for Viola and Orchestra to the Israel Symphony, and
I even prefer Bloch's Viola Suite to his Violin Concerto. The orchestration
is highly effective. The work is in four movements, the first and last
of which are two or three times the length of the middle ones. The
opening is pungent and attention getting. There is some lively melody,
an intense climax, and a quiet ending to the movement, which is marked
Lento. This is followed by a scherzo marked Allegro ironico. I hear it
as pleasingly grotesque, actually, and it is dancelike in part. The
third movement, Lento again, could be called night music. The final
movement, Molto vivo, reveals the interest Bloch developed in Far eastern
music. Imagine the lively opening as a kind of Chinese Petrouchka. Then
the pace broadens out to give the soloist more prominence. The ending
is fairly conventional. If I were a violist I would definitely want
this to be in the regular repertoire. I would like that anyway.