LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
PERFORMER: Ulrich Schmid (cello); NW German PO/Dominique Roggen
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 321 0215-2
Ernest Bloch was born Swiss, but has earned his place in history as a ‘Jewish’ composer with works such as Schelomo, Baal Shem and his Israel symphony, all of which date from his so-called ‘second’ period in the decade around 1920. Schelomo translates as Solomon, and the piece is also described as a ‘Hebraic rhapsody’ for cello and orchestra, but the definition of national stereotypes in music is highly subjective, and it is largely the power of association that makes the spacious melody at the climax of Schelomo – based around the augmented seconds of the minor scale – seem vaguely Jewish in character.
Only occasionally bursting into full romantic flower, Schelomo is a bit of a struggle, both for the listener and probably for the players too. Bloch seems to have seen the solo cello as a lone voice, fighting for recognition amid lavish orchestral sonorities, a predicament compounded by a somewhat matter of fact accompaniment and an unsympathetic balance. A piece that could seethe with passion ends up being rather wan.
Honneger’s strange cello concerto fills the rest of this rather short disc. It drifts from a light music style to something rather more brittle, finishing with what his biographer calls an “outstanding contribution to humour” in the last movement. Perhaps a better performance, in particular a more swashbuckling orchestral contribution, would offer a more convincing realisation than we get here. Christopher Lambton