Ernest Bloch. (1880-1959)
Violin Concerto, 1938. (38:21)
Baal Shem (Three Pictures of Hasidic Life) for Violin Solo and
Orchestra, 1923. (14:34)
Suite Hebraique for Violin Solo and Orchestra, 1952. (13:06)
Zina Schiff, Violin. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Cond. Jose
Selected comparisons, concerto:
Joseph Szigeti, Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, cond. Charles Munch.
Turnabout/Vox Historical Series (EMI 1939 recording). Vinyl.
Oleh Krysa, Malmo Symphony Orchestra, cond. Sakari Oromo. BIS CD-639
Selected comparisons, Baal Shem, Suite hebraique:
Hagai Shaham, violin; Arnon Erez, Piano. Hyperion CDA67571
Pinchas Zukerman, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Lawrence Foster.
Coumbia M30644. (vinyl) Nigun from Baal Shem only.
This is the performance and recording of Bloch's Violin Concerto I have
been waiting for. The few earlier versions I have heard disappointed
me. They have not inspired many re-hearings and, in fact have made the
work seem bland and a bit dull. This recent NAXOS release immediately
grabbed and kept my attention. This performance has the intense rhapsodic
excitement of other Bloch works in his Hebraic style.
Bloch actually did not consider this work to be in that style,
claiming that it was based on Native American influences but other
musicians have disagreed, citing particularly its modal intervals.
The violin was Bloch's instrument, and early in his development he
studied with the violinist Eugene Ysaye, before that teacher urged
him to take up composition. Further urging came from Romain Rolland,
who found Bloch working in a Swiss clock shop. In his thirties, Block
emigrated to America, where he became director of conservatoies in
Cleveland, San Francisco and at UC-Berkeley. He spent about seven years
composing the Violin Concerto, which he dedicated to Joseph Szigeti.
Zina Schiff, the soloist here on this recording and the writer
of its program notes, calls the Violin Concerto and the suites
'exquisite.' (She studied at Curtis and was a protege of Jasha
Heifetz.) Walter Simmons, in Voices in the Wilderness: Six
American Neo-Romantic Composers (reviewed by Steve Schwartz at
www.classical.net/music/books/reviews/0810848848a.html) is less
enthusiastic about the Violin Concerto, finding the opening movement
'diffuse, strained and rhetorical,' and the concerto overall repetitious
and lacking rhythmic drive. For myself, the work in this performance,
has me with it all the way.
As for the other works on this disc, Baal Shem was composed originally
for viola and piano, then violin and piano, and orchestrated in 1939.
The Suite Hebraique was also first written for viola and piano, and
orchestrated two years after its composition. I strongly prefer the
versions with orchestra, recorded here.
The sound on this recording adds to its excitement but also gives me
pause. In comparison with the vinyl recording of the Nigun section of
Baal Shem, on which the violin tone glows and the orchestra is well
balanced, the Naxos recording is forward rather than recessed. After a
few hearings, I found myself turning down the treble on my pre-amp, which
improved the sound of both the solo violin and the brass to my satisfaction.
You might prefer it that way also. With this small reservation, I can
recommend this release highly.
Copyright 2008 R. James Tobin
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