Ernest Bloch: Music for Cello & Piano

These five works, covering the range from Bloch’s student days in Brussels and through his first decades in the USA, bear witness to a fertile and expanding imagination. Central to any survey of Bloch must be the so-called ‘Jewish’ music which occupied him for just a decade around the time of the First World War and into the 20s and which includes his greatest and most popular score, Schelomo – Rhapsodie hébraïque for cello and orchestra from 1916. He did not invent the style, however, nor did he always inhabit this world, as evinced by the early Sonate and the big Suite 1919, neither of which could be labelled ‘Jewish’.


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From a relatively early age, Ernest Bloch seems to have enjoyed a special affinity for the cello. The Cello Sonata, which was composed at the time he was a student in Brussels, is idiomatically written for the instrument – the cello’s soaring melodies matched by an equally extravagant quasi-orchestral piano part.

At this stage, Bloch seems to have been particularly enamoured by the emotionally charged music of César Franck and was also undoubtedly influenced by his teacher Ysaÿe.

Much more characteristic are the three works inspired by Jewish folklore that include the well-known Nigun for violin, performed here in a very effective transcription by Joseph Schuster, the three miniatures From Jewish Life and the more extended Méditation hébraȉque, composed for Casals, which is closest in idiom to his cello masterpiece, Schelomo. But the most interesting discovery on this enterprising release is undoubtedly the Suite, originally conceived for viola and orchestra. There are undoubtedly echoes of Bloch’s Jewish style in the wild modal dance that appears mid-way through the large-scale first movement. Elsewhere, however, Bloch turns to the exoticism of music of the Far East, in particular Bali for inspiration. In this respect the slow and mysterious third movement is especially hypnotic.

Raphael Wallfisch and John York work hand in glove to deliver an expressive account of the Sonata and are careful not to overdue the histrionics in Nigun. They are particularly impressive in negotiating the rhapsodic changes of mood and timbre in the Suite and the recording balance is admirable."

Erik Levi

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