Bloch

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COMPOSERS: Bloch
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Bloch: Symphony in E flat Major
WORKS: Symphony in E flat major; Macbeth: Two Interludes; Three Jewish Poems; In Memoriam
PERFORMER: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Dalia Atlas
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573290

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The earliest offerings in this useful survey of lesser-known orchestral works by Bloch, originally released on the ASV label in 1996, are two symphonic interludes from the opera Macbeth. Cast in an idiom that owes much to Richard Strauss and Debussy, they provide a richly scored and vivid depiction of some of the central episodes in Shakespeare’s drama. More typical of the composer are the Three Jewish Pieces, completed a year before the outbreak of World War One. As in the Macbeth Interludes, Bloch’s orchestration is opulent, but the oriental colouring and the passionate intensity of the orchestral climaxes, especially in the final piece ‘Cortège funèbre’, anticipate his best-known work, Schelomo.

The other compositions date from the last period in Bloch’s life when he was living in relative isolation on the Oregon coast. Although there’s an element of nostalgia hovering over the slow movement of the Symphony in E flat, composed in the mid 1950s, much of the music is austere, surprisingly chromatic and somewhat impersonal. Atlas delivers a softer-grained and more accessible approach to the score than Andrey Boreyko and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra on BIS, although the latter release benefits from greater transparency of sound. Elsewhere, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra responds enthusiastically to Atlas’s conducting with playing of warmth and considerable finesse.

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Erik Levi