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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ernest Bloch - Symphony in E flat major; Three Jewish Poems (Dalia Atlas)


Composer: Ernest Bloch
  1. Macbeth, opera: Interlude to Act 1
  2. Macbeth, opera: Interlude to Act 3
  3. Three Jewish Poems: I. Danse (Poco animato)
  4. Three Jewish Poems: II. Rite (Calmo - Andante moderato)
  5. Three Jewish Poems: III. Cortège funèbre (Lento assai)
  6. In Memoriam
  7. Symphony in E flat major: I. Tranquillo - Allegro deciso
  8. Symphony in E flat major: II. Allegro
  9. Symphony in E flat major: III. Andante
  10. Symphony in E flat major: IV. Allegro deciso

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Dalia Atlas, conductor
Date: 1996
Label: ASV
Reissued by Naxos



First, an alert to film buffs. Anyone schooled in the stylistic manners of Korngold, Steiner or Alfred Newman will likely gravitate to the Act 1 and Act 3 Interludes of Bloch’s only opera, Macbeth (1910). True, the writing recalls the Richard Strauss of the period (not to mention the teenage Korngold’s recent triumphs), but premonitions of film-scores-to-come are more vivid still – both in terms of orchestration and in the evocative harmonic-melodic slant of Bloch’s ideas. How strange that contemporary critics spoke of “barbaric” music, “an indecipherable rebus”, “noise for the sake of noise” – the sort of vapid invective one normally associates with early Stravinsky or Prokofiev.
This big, extravagant orchestral writing is equally apparent in the Three Jewish Poems (1913), music that Bloch himself premiered with the Boston Symphony and that – 6'59'' into the “Cortege funebre” third movement – hints at yet another Hollywood master, John Williams this time, and Close Encounters in particular. The first piece is cast in modal dress and recalls similar compositions by Enescu: solo strings and woodwinds are gainfully employed throughout (both Schelomo and the Violin Concerto come to mind), but it is the fulsome profile of Bloch’s big tutti that lingers longest in the memory.

By contrast, the relatively late miniature In Memoriam (1952, completed on Christmas Eve in memory of the pianist Ada Clement) is serenely simple: the hymn-like nature of much of the piece is reminiscent of Nielsen, and the scoring is refreshingly economical. The E flat Symphony (1954-5) is again leaner, drier, more thematically economical (a handful of motifs come and go like familiar signposts) and more rhythmically driven than the earlier pieces, though both the opening and closing sections of the work conjure up a mood of sad tranquillity and the brief Andante slow movement is perhaps the most beautiful music on the CD.

Dalia Atlas Sternberg and the RPO ride the vast tonal waves of Macbeth and the Jewish Poems with only a few rocky moments (mostly concerning ensemble) to worry perfectionists, while the In Memoriam and the Symphony are sensitively handled by all concerned. I note that Atlas Sternberg plans to record more Bloch, and if this particular programme is anything to go by, future instalments should generate much enthusiasm among lovers of late-romantic repertoire. Brian Culverhouse’s recording employs the generous acoustic of St Barnabas Church, Finchley to fine effect.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:
Naxos reissue:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / RECORDING: ****


Ernest Bloch (July 24, 1880 – July 15, 1959) was a Swiss-born American composer.  Bloch's musical style does not fit easily into any of the usual categories; he studied variously with Jaques-Dalcroze, Iwan Knorr and Ludwig Thuille, as well as corresponding with Mahler and meeting Debussy. Many of his works - as can be seen from their Hebrew-inspired titles - also draw heavily on his Jewish heritage. He held several teaching appointments in the U.S., with George Antheil, Frederick Jacobi, Quincy Porter, Bernard Rogers, and Roger Sessions among his pupils.


Dalia Atlas (born 1933 in Haifa, Israel) is a classical orchestral conductor. She graduated from the Music Academy of Jerusalem, and studied conducting with the most distinguished Maestros abroad. She has a rich repertoire includes about 750 scores and recorded more than twenty CD's. Atlas is a noted champion of Ernest Bloch's music, being the founder and the Head of "The Ernest Bloch Society in Israel" as well as "Honorary Vice President" of the "Ernest Bloch International Society", London, UK.


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