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CD Review

Ernest Bloch

  • Macbeth – Two Interludes
  • Trois poèmes juifs
  • In Memoriam
  • Symphony in E Flat Major
David Towse, violin
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dalia Atlas Sternberg
Academy Sound & Vision CDDCA1019 67:54
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We all have lacunae in our musical knowledge; Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is one of mine. (I guess you could call it a mental Bloch.) I know the Concerti grossi and the popular concertante pieces, and then my familiarity stops. More's the pity, because the present disc contains invariably impressive music, and excellent performances (and sound) to boot.

The interludes from Macbeth and Three Jewish Poems date from the composer's thirties, and In Memoriam and the Symphony from his seventies, the last decade of his life. The latter work was intended to be a third Concerto grosso, but as Bloch neared the end of the work, he realized he needed a new first movement – one that would anticipate the last – and the Symphony was the result. Despite its major key, its tone is serious and jaggedly ambitious. Bloch is so clever: he can write a twelve-tone-row and not compromise emotional and intellectual attractiveness. Based on a faux-Renaissance theme, In Memoriam (like the Symphony, also billed as a first recording on a commercial disc – can it be true?) is a short, moving elegy for a deceased pupil.

The first half of the disc is devoted to the two earlier works. I mean them no insult (in fact, quite the opposite) when I write that they improbably and uncannily anticipate the work of Miklós Rózsa. Macbeth obsessed the composer's youth, and the interludes offered here come from his massive opera. This is dramatic stuff, and it whets my appetite for more of it. The Three Jewish Poems contain some of Bloch's most ethnic-sounding music. Again, to invoke, with no malice, a cinematic equivalent, they are pieces in search of Cecil B. deMille (almost exactly Bloch's contemporary!)

I can't say enough good things about this disc. This is a Brian Culverhouse recording, and so the sound is excellent. The RPO eats up the music's color and rhythm, and Sternberg is a great advocate. This is the start of a planned series of recordings devoted to Bloch. Given the success of the present disc, that is most exciting news!

Copyright © 1998, Raymond Tuttle