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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ernest Bloch - Evocations; Two Last Poems; Trois poèmes juifs (James Sedares)


Composer: Ernest Bloch
  1. Trois poèmes juifs (Three Jewish Poems): Dance: Poco animato
  2. Trois poèmes juifs (Three Jewish Poems): Rite: Calmo (Andante moderato)
  3. Trois poèmes juifs (Three Jewish Poems): Funeral Procession: Lento assai
  4. Two Last Poems ... (Maybe ...), for flute solo & orchestra: Funeral Music
  5. Two Last Poems ... (Maybe ...), for flute solo & orchestra: Life Again?
  6. Evocations: Contemplation
  7. Evocations: Houang Ti (God of War)
  8. Evocations: Renouveau (Springtime)

Alexa Still, flute (4, 5)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
James Sedares, conductor

Date: 1994
Label: Koch International Classics



According to Ernest Bloch, the creative artist should ''make love and create beautiful works'', an apt credo coming from a composer who was said (by his own wife!) to have taken ''at least'' 23 mistresses. Yet no matter how you rate Bloch as a composer, there can be little doubt that much of his music is beautiful—the closing ''Springtime'' from Evocations being a fair case in point. And surely no one who is responsive to delicate textures and ruminative melodic lines would voluntarily pass by the late Two Last Poems, composed when he was already terminally ill and perhaps his very last work.

The earliest opus here, the Three Jewish Poems, was written in 1913 and hints towards Respighi's Roman triptych (especially in the closing minutes of ''Rite''), all three components of which had yet to be composed. However, the ''Rite'' also has something of Copland's strong simplicity and further reminds us that Bloch was a passionate devotee of the 'Great Outdoors', especially in later life. It was in 1917 that he conducted the work's Boston premiere, apparently to great acclaim; and although the 'Jewish' element provides a strong linking theme (the harmonic writing has an unmistakably Eastern complexion), the orchestration and manner of musical exposition are as appealingly trans-national as, say, Ravel, Richard Strauss or Bax.

The Evocations incorporate ''pentatonic scales and colouristic instrumentation'' (to quote flautist Alexa Still's excellent booklet-note) and although I found the central ''Houang Ti'' a little over-worked, the outer movements are quite magical. Still projects a beautiful tone for the wistful, self-possessed Two Last Poems, and it says something for Bloch's creative (and spiritual) development that the work's ''Funeral Music'' is more thoughtful and accepting than the raging ''Funeral Procession'' that closes the Three Jewish Poems, composed some 45 years earlier.

Bloch's subtly coloured canvasses seem custom-built for an age that is increasingly attracted to late-romantic musical tone-painting. And yet it seems to me a great pity that these admirable works are barely known outside their respective publishing houses. We are therefore greatly indebted to James Sedares and the excellent New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for these clear-headed, sensitively turned performances, all three of which are extremely well engineered. Anyone with a taste for atmospheric musical evocations cannot fail to enjoy them.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:


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.


James Sedares (born in Chicago, USA) is a American conductor. He studied in St Louis with the Polish conductor Jerzy Semkow and the late Walter Süsskind. He joined the Phoenix Symphony as Resident Conductor in 1986 and three years later became its Music Director. In this position, he has made a distinguished name for himself as one of the most outstanding of a new generation of American conductors. His recordings include Grammy-nominated releases with the London Symphony Orchestra and with the Louisville Orchestra, and a series of some fifteen recordings with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.


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