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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ernest Bloch, Symphony in E flat Major, and Other Works

If you consider the entire output of composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), there are multiple stylistic niches. Dalia Atlas' liner notes to today's CD remind us, and it's true. There of course is the Jewish-tinged Bloch, which is the most well-known through such works as Schelomo. But there are other aspects, rather neglected since his death--the neo-romantic and impressionistic, the contemporary, church-oriented music, etc.

The CD at hand centers around his last symphony: the Symphony in E flat Major (Naxos 8:573290). The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is well in-hand throughout, as conducted by the aforementioned Dalia Atlas, a Bloch aficionado who has done much work to research and revive many now almost forgotten works.

Indeed, in addition to the contemporary modern symphony from 1954-55, we get "Two Symphonic Interludes" (1939) from his opera Macbeth, which was composed from 1903 to 1910 while Bloch was still a resident of Geneva. (He came to the US in 1916, residing there permanently until his death.) The style is neo-romantic/impressionistic and the music has much charm.

The symphony is a major work with great atmospheric depth and an acute orchestrational dimensionality. Atlas and the Royal Philharmonic give us a near-ideal reading.

"In Memorium" (1952) is a short and somber work in a quasi-church-mode style, an elegie in memory of pianist Ada Clement.

The "Three Jewish Poems" (1913) give us a prime but perhaps not as well-known example of his Semitic side. The suite was written in memory of his father. It integrates Jewish tonality into a symphonic orchestral scheme in ways that epitomise the composer in this vein. It is a fitting conclusion to a fascinating program, of a Bloch we hear far too little of today who yet still sounds apt and current.

Hats off to Ms. Atlas and the Royal Philharmonic for giving us an important addition to the Bloch discography. The music bears your attention and reminds us that there indeed is more of worth in his 30-work orchestral output than just the few blockbusters we tend to hear repeatedly.

All those who already appreciate Bloch will I do not doubt learn to love these works on a few hearings. It is a significant addition and at the Naxos price, you get much more than your money's worth! Recommended.

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