Bloch: Suite hébraïque; Two Pieces for viola & piano; Concertino; Suite for viola & piano; Suite for viola (unfinished)

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COMPOSERS: Bloch
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Suite hébraïque; Two Pieces for viola & piano; Concertino; Suite for viola & piano; Suite for viola (unfinished)
PERFORMER: Paul Cortese (viola), Michel Wagemans (piano), Maarika Järvi (flute)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1094
Given the continued popularity of works such as Schelomo or Baal shem, it’s easy to pigeon-hole Ernest Bloch as a composer whose exclusive preoccupation was with Jewish themes. But this marvellously performed recital serves to demonstrate a far wider stylistic perspective. Inevitably, Jewish-inflected cantorial writing is very much in evidence in the Suite hébraïque, as well as in the Meditation and Processional. Yet the charming Concertino for Flute, Viola and Piano, composed in the same period, explores a surprisingly Gallic neo-classicism, while the unfinished Suite for unaccompanied viola is a more astringent essay combining elements of 12-note technique with Bachian gestures.

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Without doubt the strongest work of all is the Suite for viola and piano, which was awarded the prestigious Coolidge prize in 1919. Here Bloch’s emotionally charged musical language is given free rein in four large-scale and rhapsodically structured movements. The challenge for the performers is to breathe coherence and a sense of direction into the music – a task admirably achieved by Paul Cortese and Michel Wagemans, who deliver an interpretation of blazing conviction. Conversely Cortese and Wagemans resist the temptation to be over-demonstrative in the outer movements of the Suite hébraïque, thus strengthening the occasionally four-square nature of the rhythmic argument. Erik Levi