Bloch: Méditation hébraïque; Suite for Solo Cello No. 1; Suite for Solo Cello No. 2; Suite for Solo Cello No. 3; From Jewish Life; Baal shem

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COMPOSERS: Bloch
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Méditation hébraïque; Suite for Solo Cello No. 1; Suite for Solo Cello No. 2; Suite for Solo Cello No. 3; From Jewish Life; Baal shem
PERFORMER: Peter Bruns (cello), Roglit Ishay (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-232
Given the popularity of Schelomo, not to mention Bloch’s strong empathy with string instruments, it’s rather surprising to discover that this release offers the first comprehensive appraisal of the composer’s output for cello and piano on CD. Admittedly, recordings of From Jewish Life and the Méditation hébraïque are readily available, but the three Suites for Solo Cello which Bloch wrote near the end of his life have been almost entirely overlooked, their austere and emotionally elusive musical language appearing to be worlds removed from the rhapsodic and exotic modes of expression by which the composer is best remembered.

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Without question, the suites are problematic works for both performer and listener. Although individual movements are relatively short, the sometimes meandering declamatory lines, as well as Bloch’s over-fondness for dotted rhythms in compound metre, can easily try one’s patience. Yet such is the intensity and conviction of Peter Bruns’s playing that doubts about the music begin to evaporate, and the Second Suite in particular makes a powerful impression.

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Bruns is equally persuasive in the earlier miniatures, and provides a very effective transcription of Baal shem where he manages to convey the fervour and ecstasy of Bloch’s writing without resorting to unnecessary histrionics. Ishay offers excellent support, though the balance is not ideal, with the distant piano sounding rather brittle. Erik Levi