Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, January 2010

The interplay between soloists and between soloists and orchestra dazzles. Furthermore, Bloch’s invention fires on all cylinders, one penetrating idea shooting out after another…a gem, both brilliant and hard.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

A fascinating and highly rewarding collection, involving two soloists, two orchestras and, in the case of the Four Episodes, scored (in 1926) for a combination of string quintet, wind quintet and piano. The most striking Episode is the well-named Humoresque macabre, while in the second, Obsession, Bloch spiritedly anticipates minimalism with the same five-bar motive repeated two dozen times, in continuous variation. The pastoral Calm, with its shepherd’s pipe, suggests nature, and the closing Chinese evocation is piquantly exotic. The Two Poems are earlier (1905) and are appropriately titled in French, for there is an atmospheric warmth and transparency to the scoring which has influences from both Debussy and Ravel. But perhaps the highlights are the two late concertante works; the charming three-movement Concertino for violin and viola (1948) ends with a fugue which then gives birth to a lively polka. The Suite Modale, with a serene ancient-and-modern flavour, was written in 1956, three years before the composer’s death—an engagingly nostalgic reverie, interrupted by a bright central Gigue. The performances here are excellent, all very persuasively directed by Dalia Atlas; they are splendidly played and given top-quality Naxos sound. A disc not to be missed.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, January 2008

The music is of incomparable beauty throughout, the performances are sympathetic, and the recording excellent. Strongly recommended. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, October 2007

All the performances from the various groups are excellent and the recorded sound is consistently superb. Again Naxos has come up with a real winner that should make new converts to Bloch’s music.

Ernest Bloch is remembered today primarily for his cello and orchestra work, Schelomo. It remains a mystery why more of his music isn’t performed with any regularity. His music is individual enough, easy to absorb, and very colorful. Occasionally, one gets to hear his first Concerto Grosso and Violin Concerto, but not much else. The string quartets and Violin Concerto ought to belong in the twentieth-century standard repertoire, but such is not the case. Dalia Atlas, the conductor of the recordings under review, has made a real effort to reverse this, having done extensive research on Bloch and recorded nearly 20 of his orchestral works for ASV and Naxos. She also writes the informative program note in the booklet accompany this CD. Admittedly, she greatly overstates Bloch’s importance in the history of music by stating that Bloch was “recognized and appreciated during his lifetime as a successor to Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.” Nevertheless, Bloch does not deserve the general neglect he has received and this recording should help the cause.

The first work on this CD is the four-movement suite entitled Four Episodes.It is scored for eleven instruments: string quintet, wind quintet, and piano. The first movement, Humoresque macabre, reminds me in its rhythmical element of the first Concerto Grosso, which is scored for strings and piano obbligato. The movement also contains a few wind solos that have a Jewish flavor, typical of this composer’s works of the period. The second movement, Obsession, consists of a catchy tune and 24 continuous variations. The third movement, Pastoral (as given in the booklet, but Calm on back of the jewel case), lives up to its title with its wind solos producing a nostalgic flavor. One of its themes is quite similar to a tune in Kodály’s Peacock Variations. The suite ends with a movement appropriately titled Chinese with its use of the pentatonic scale.

Next on the disc come Two Poems that depict winter and spring, respectively. These are early works and are more romantic than the others on the disc. They are scored for full orchestra. Hiver (winter) is filled with sadness and nostalgia, while Printemps (spring) is typically joyful, but contains a big orchestral climax and then ends quietly. Both are lovely and rather Delian in character.

The disc’s third work is a three-movement Concertino for flute, viola, and strings. It uses modal scales as does the Suite Modale concluding the disc. These are late pieces that show Bloch being true to himself. His style remained primarily romantic, and his later works could be called old-fashioned by the composer’s detractors. However, there is something genuine about them that stays with the listener. The Concertino begins with a haunting viola solo, but before long the flute joins in dialogue with the viola and the strings. The second movement is a contrasting Andante introduced by the lower strings and then picked up by viola and flute with string accompaniment. The third movement is a fugue with an intermezzo followed by a concluding polka that ends the work in high spirits.

The Suite Modale for flute and strings is a four-movement work. It begins with a very oriental-sounding flute solo and maintains its quiet modality throughout the first two movements. The third movement, in A-B-A form, is a gigue followed by a slower section with the gigue returning. The final movement is nearly as long as the first three together. It consists of two contrasted sections—an alternating Adagio and an Allegro, with the movement ending quietly and wistfully. As a whole, the suite is a mood piece, but it also provides the flute with plentiful virtuosity.

All the performances from the various groups are excellent and the recorded sound is consistently superb. Special mention should be made of flutist Noam Buchman, who has both the technique and a beautiful tone. Yuri Gandelsman’s viola solos in the Concertino are also praiseworthy, and Dalia Atlas obviously has a real affinity for the music of Bloch. Again Naxos has come up with a real winner that should make new converts to Bloch’s music. If you think Bloch wrote only Schelomo, you should sample this disc.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, October 2007

The fact that none of these somewhat rare works by Bloch are first recordings bodes well for his discography. None of them fall into his well-known “Jewish” or “Neo-classical” periods. In this, her third volume of Bloch orchestral music for Naxos, Dalia Atlas—who also supplies the liner-note—deals with smaller-scale works. But the pieces here are all worthy of the same attention given to the better–known works. They show aspects of his musical personality that one could not discover elsewhere.

The works here span the composer’s career. The Two Poems date from 1905 and are among the first in which he freed himself from the prevailing Straussian aesthetic of the time. They are linked melodically with the first (Winter), betraying a sort of Russian nostalgia and having an effective central section. Perhaps the performers add to the Slavic melancholy. Spring is more impressionistic and naturally more spirited, reminiscent of Dukas and once or twice of Henry Hadley. Unfortunately the recording is bass-heavy and somewhat too reverberant, although the woodwind are to be commended.

The Four Episodes jump more than twenty years forward to 1926 and have little in the way of Jewish or Neo-classical qualities. The work derives from a less evident stylistic fusion and is scored for wind quintet, string quintet and piano. From this the composer derives an almost orchestral sound and the use of the woodwinds is again felicitous. Interestingly the first piece, Humoresque, is built around a single figure and is just as “obsessive” as the second piece. Suggestions of Bach, various French composers and of the Dies Irae periodically surface in Obsession. Calm is just what is needed after its predecessors and already shows a slight American influence. The last piece, Chinese, evokes Bloch’s love of Chinese Theaters and also makes reference to the previous pieces. It is not your typical chinoiserie.

The Concertino and the Suite Modale were written after the Second World War and demonstrate an increased interest in writing for the flute, an instrument that Bloch had always loved. The combination of flute and viola with strings in the Concertino is reminiscent of Holst's Fugal Concerto and demonstrates a similar concern with pre-Classical forms. The first movement evinces traits of some of the American composers of the time; Bloch had finally settled there. It slides into a slower movement which is one of the most affecting I have heard by him before the finale demonstrates the composer’s fugal ability which in turn ends in a polka!

One of Bloch’s last works was the Suite Modale for Flute and Strings. In these last years the composer added an interest in modality to all this other styles. This work overall is more meditative than the Concertino, especially in the first movement which is perfectly suited to the flute. The second movement is in the same tempo as the first but has a totally different feel, more like that of the Concertino. The allegro giocoso has a beautiful middle section that is again evocative of pre-Classical music. The last movement is the most substantial and would seem from its tempo listings to be a decisive, energetic piece, but it ends reflectively and almost sadly.

With three ensembles in three different halls it is a little difficult to discuss the recording quality of this disc. It can be said that the Israeli halls interfere less with the sound of the music. Noam Buchman does a wonderful job with the extended flute passages in the two late works, although in the Suite some listeners may prefer the more dynamic Alexa Still on Koch International. There is a good recording of Winter-Spring by David Shallon on Timpani but I find Atlas’s performances more authentic and indeed her conducting of the entire disc is exemplary.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

Recordings of Ernest Bloch seldom enjoy a long shelf-life in the record industry, and today concert performances are all too rare. It seems a sad fate for a composer who left us with so much readily enjoyable music redolent with the most pleasing thematic material. Indeed if it were not for the cello work, Schelomo his name might have well disappeared from popular musical recognition. It had all been very different in his younger years in his native Switzerland where his music had the influences of Strauss and Debussy in his sumptuous orchestration and innate use of colours. He moved to the United States in 1916, and from the 1920’s largely devoted himself to teaching at major music colleges in Cleveland, San Francisco and Berkeley, and for many years around the 1940’s composed nothing. The present disc is ideally selective and shows the young man in his twenty-fifth year for Winter and Spring, in the Two Poems, completed in 1905 and was be Bloch’s American ‘calling card’ with the 1916 first performance in New York. Moving forward to the 1926 Four Episodes, a score for eleven players that still retains spring-like colours and is ever inventive. Jumping to the end of that nondescript central period we arrive at the Concertino for flute and viola commissioned by the Julliard School of Music in 1948, its bright and athletic flute part in the opening movement becoming a display of agility in the finale. The solo viola and orchestra mainly underpin, even in the slow central Andante. Dedicated to the famous flautist, Elaine Schaffer, the Suite Mondale was completed in 1956 three years before Bloch’s death, and in content is a reflective autumnal work, Noam Buchman, principal flute of the Jerusalem Symphony and a soloist much in demand throughout Europe, is too close to the microphone to achieve nice quiet moments—particularly in the Suite—but he is obviously a first rank musician. The playing of members from the Israel Philharmonic in the The Four Episodes is excellent, its piquant colours given a nice razor-cut freshness, the Slovak Radio Symphony in the Two Poems just caught out in the internal unanimity of intonation. The Atlas Camerata, largely formed from recent immigrants to Israel from Russia, is a well drilled outfit who lack nothing in technique, and throughout Dalia Atlas proves to be a highly compelling advocate of Bloch. A big jolt in ambiance when we move to the last seven tracks recorded in Israel, but if Bloch is on your shopping list this is a good sampler at an attractive price.

David Hurwitz, July 2007

Bloch is of course best known for his “Jewish ” works…you can hear this in the finale of the Viola Suite, and perhaps most potently as the finale of the Four Episodes. Scored for piano, wind quintet, and strings, the performance here is wonderfully colorful and alive. Hiver-Printemps is one of Bloch’s earliest pieces, a pair of short tone poems that does exactly what the titles say: offer musical portraits of winter, and then spring. The style is impressionist, the scoring pellucidly lovely.

This is one of those discs that, by virtue of its unfamiliar repertoire, might easily be overlooked, but don’t make that mistake. You’d be missing excellent performances of very high-quality, enjoyable music…

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group