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Gavin Dixon
Gramophone, March 2015

GRAMOPHONE SPECIALIST’S GUIDE TO… Works for Forgotten Instruments #7

The glass harmonica consists of concentric glass bowls arranged on a rotating spindle. Its ethereal, ghostly tone is produced by lightly touching the rims. Invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761, it became popular across Europe and attracted players as august as Marie Antoinette and composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart’s works were written for the blind glass harmonica virtuoso Marianne Kirchgässner. © 2015 Gramophone

Stylemanitoba, July 2002

"While the practice of generating different pitches from vessels filled with calculated volumes of water was known as early as the 15th Century, it took 18th Century Irish composer Richard Puckeridge to codify the technique. In Glass Harmonica (Naxos), Thomas Bloch explores the rare entertainment of the instrument, from a playful Mozart Rondo to a Donizetti aria - the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor, something of a signature work- to his own unsettling "Sancta Maria." With a frosty sound pitched somewhere between celeste, calliope and snowdrift, this is the most beautiful uneasy listening."

R.E.B., March 2002

"If you have a keen interest in the glass harmonica you may wish to investigate a Naxos issue of performances by Thomas Bloch. Playing time is generous (70:56) and price is budget...a fascinating listening experience."

Adrian Jack
BBC Music Magazine, March 2002

The glass harmonica has glass bowls arranged horizontally and rotated by a rod connected to a pedal. The eerily pure and penetrating sound, less clinical than a sine wave and rich in silvery harmonics, is produced by the fingers on the rims, and, it's said, drove several players mad...

Adriane Jack
BBC Music Magazine, March 2002

"Mozart's own Quintet tests the limitations of the glass harmonica player's agility in its concerto-like second movement, and Thomas Bloch comes out of it gracefully."

Olin Chism
San Jose Mercury News, December 2001

"The glass harmonica has an eerie sound, a kind of spookiness tinged with melancholy. Mozart was fascinated with it, and very late in his life he wrote two pieces: the Adagio, K. 617a, and a two-movement quintet, K. 617. In the latter, a flute, oboe, viola and cello join the glass harmonica. The quintet is the last piece of chamber music that Mozart composed.

Beethoven wrote a miniature for the instrument, combining it with the speaking voice. More significantly, Donizetti originally wrote a glass harmonica part to accompany Lucia in her mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Among the seven other composers represented on this CD, two are remarkable. One, Johann Julius Sontag von Holt Sombach, not yet 40, is clearly a man who utterly rejects the 20th and 21st centuries and writes in a decidedly antique style. And Thomas Bloch, a Frenchman who plays the glass harmonica on this recording, has written a Sancta Maria that is weirdly avant-garde yet somehow moving.

It's a strange but sometimes beautiful recording."

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, December 2001

"No, this isn't really a Christmas CD, but there's something about the unique tinkly sound of the glass harmonica that makes it sound extremely Christmasy to my ears. Then there is a final track here that comes close to seasonal music - an original Sancta Maria by the performer on the instrument -with four multitracked vocal parts laid over it by a male soprano. That's old Ben Franklin there in the cover picture playing his own invention, the nested-glass-bowls instrument which became all the rage in the late 18th century and had many composers writing specifically for it - including Mozart and Beethoven. Some of these are solo pieces; others are chamber works and a few vocal compositions. Several are heard in their world premiere recordings. It may be due to the work's familiarity, but Mozart's exquisite Adagio and Rondo, accompanied by flute, oboe, viola and cello, still stands out as the most successful piece for this unique instrument."

Roy Brewer
MusicWeb International

"Any temptation to classify this fascinating disc as a musical curiosity is easily disposed of by a glance at track list. It contains fourteen works, of which seven are world premiere recordings. These range from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. In all of them the glass harmonica features either as a solo instrument, or is combined with voices or less unfamiliar instruments. But first the listener needs to know what to expect.

The glass harmonica is one of many newly invented instruments that appeared in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of which quickly became obsolete. However, unlike its rivals it captured the public imagination, and in the nineteenth century around four hundred compositions had been written for it, including works by Mozart and Beethoven. Invented in 1743 by an Irishman, Richard Puckeridge, and later mechanised as a pedalled instrument by Benjamin Franklin, it relies on a phenomenon well known to most schoolchildren: that a recognisably musical sound can be produced by stroking a moistened finger around the rim of an ordinary drinking glass. For this instrument bowl-shaped glass discs of graduated sizes, each corresponding to a note in the chromatic scale, are mounted on an axle and rotated by a pedal action. After passing through a shallow water trough they are rotated by the pedal, and when touched by the player's fingers produce flute-like, ethereal sounds, described by Paganini as 'a celestial voice.' The instrument attracted many admirers, and in 1829 was considered 'the fashionable accessory of parlours and drawing rooms.' However, like so many novelties, it went out of fashion. This recording was made on a modern reproduction by Gerhard Finkenbeiner.

Mozart was probably the only famous composer to take the glass harmonica seriously enough to write several fairly extended works for it though, as the contemporary pieces on this disc show, its fascination has remained powerful enough to attract some present-day players and composers. Thomas Bloch is unquestionably a virtuoso, with all the skills necessary to fulfil the roles of soloist, accompanist and ensemble player.

For the solo pieces a fairly low volume setting may be necessary to appreciate the "celestial" quality attributed to the glass harmonica. To my ears its crystalline voice can easily become rather monotonous unless it is set against other instruments, though with them - or with voices sympathetic to its timbre, as on this record - the effect can be magical. Mozart is given a generous 19 minutes, his cool elegance immediately recognisable. Beethoven¡¦s accompaniment to a sad spoken poem lasts a mere sixty seconds. The obvious delight of (to me) unknown composers in exploring new sonorities is engagingly displayed in many of the earlier pieces, and also those by von Holt Sombach (b.1962) who unashamedly turns the clock back to a nineteenth century style without indulging in pastiche, and to pleasant effect. The brief aria from the mad scene in Donizetti¡¦s Lucia di Lammermoor, now invariably played on a flute, gains little from being restored to its original scoring for glass harmonica. Thomas Bloch's own Sancta Maria (modestly placed on the final track) is a satisfying, intensely dramatic setting in a decidedly - though not defiantly - atonal idiom that fully establishes the instrument's right to be seriously considered among the "new sounds" that intrigue so many modern composers. Unquestionably a disc for connoisseurs.

Thomas Bloch's excellent essay on the history and repertoire of the glass harmonica is included with the insert booklet, and well worth reading. Both he and the maker of the instrument used for this recording have web sites from which more detailed information is available. Bloch's is and Finkenbeiner's is"

"Perhaps the pieces by the living composers Holt Sombach and Thomas Bloch are the most interesting [recorded here], demonstrating the glass harmonica's emotional range in a modern setting. Bloch's 'Sancta Maria'shows off the glass harmonica's capacity for chill, crystalline runs set against rolling bell-like phrases. The work features the extraordinary voice of Fabrice Di Falco, a man whose voice ranges from soprano to baritone. The more you play this piece, the more layers of vocal and musical subtlety you discover.

Thomas Bloch plays with great skill, extracting a wider range of musical colours and tones from the glass harmonica than any player I have heard before. He also wrote the excellent jacket notes on the history of the glass harmonica. The recording is excellent and, of course, there is the added bonus of the Naxos price. Buy this CD as the perfect introduction to the glass harmonica."

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