Bloch: Visions and Prophecies; Five Skhes in Sepia; Piano Sonata; Enfantines; In the Night; Nirvana

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COMPOSERS: Bloch
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Visions and Prophecies; Five Skhes in Sepia; Piano Sonata; Enfantines; In the Night; Nirvana
PERFORMER: Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9887
Given his prolific output in most genres, it’s somewhat surprising to discover that the bulk of Ernest Bloch’s piano music can easily be accommodated on to one CD. Among the earliest works, In the Night and Nirvana are particularly atmospheric impressionist miniatures that exploit the piano’s rich timbres in sensuously chromatic and polytonal harmonies redolent of Debussy and late Scriabin. By contrast, Bloch’s set of ten children’s pieces entitled Enfantines offers a delightful simplicity and directness of language that point more obviously towards the neo-classical First Concerto Grosso.

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Bloch’s innately rhapsodic voice is encountered in the Piano Sonata – a large-scale and powerful three-movement work dating from the mid-Thirties that appears to reflect much of the anxiety of the period in its constant juxtaposition of sections of uneasy calm with those of unexpected dissonance and ferocity. Although elements of Jewish cantilena are evident in the Sonata’s melodic writing, Visions and Prophecies composed around the same period provides a more overt expression of the composer’s passionate Hebraic idiom.

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The evident technical difficulties of the Sonata are mastered impressively by Margaret Fingerhut, who throughout this recital demonstrates an acute awareness of dramatic pacing and of creating a real sense of atmosphere. In Visions and Prophecies, Fingerhut occasionally fails to observe a true piano dynamic when specifically requested by the composer, and the closely miked recording tends to drain some of the melodic lines of poetry and direction. But all in all, this is a fascinating and well-played disc that merits a strong recommendation. Erik Levi