Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, September 2011

I was dubious and ready to dismiss this as gimmickry, but Thomas Bloch is a good composer and no slouch when it comes to playing these odd and very interesting instruments. His music won me over right away—it’s beautiful music that you can lose yourself in.

This is a fascinating and very unusual listening experience.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, May 2011

Thomas Bloch is perhaps best known as a performer on unusual instruments such as the Ondes Martenot, glass harmonica and cristal baschet. He has participated in quite a number of musical collaborations, from Mozart to John Cage to Radiohead.

This disc shows another side to him, that of composer; his style reflects the eclectic nature of his musical personality. His Missa Cantate was written in 1999, originally for voice and piano but was orchestrated by Hubert Bougis, an arranger best known in the film world. The other works on this disc use Bloch’s own orchestrations, though they are for far smaller groups. I am unclear as to why Bloch felt it necessary to have someone else orchestrate the piece; the liner-notes do not elucidate this point.

Certainly Bougis’s highly effective orchestration has given the Missa Cantate a lovely surface gloss but having listened to Bloch’s smaller pieces for unusual forces, you can’t help but wish that he’d use some of this aural originality in the Missa Cantate. As it is, the work’s main claim to fame is that the solo part was written for the high counter-tenor (billed as a ‘male soprano’) Jorg Waschinski. The work fully exploits the remarkably ethereal tones of Waschinski’s upper register, and relies quite heavily on Waschinski’s ability to project supremely other-worldly tones.

In fact, Waschinski’s upper register—he seems to go up to soprano top A on the disc—is fascinating, pure and beautifully produced, but lacks the variety of colouration that a female soprano would bring to this repertoire. It is worth bearing in mind that a soprano, even a low soprano, who sang a role going up to top A, would usually have a few notes above this to spare, to allow for some variation; I suspect that Waschinski does not. There are times, especially in the later movements, when his voice seems to be under a great deal of stress.

The piece owes its balance between voice and orchestra rather too much to the recording engineer and I was curious whether Waschinski’s voice was large enough to project over what appears to be quite a large orchestra.

The opening movements are very much in the style of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony; the text of that work gives a variety of thoughtful layers. Bloch uses the text of the mass, including one or two sections not normally set. Rather frustratingly, the text is not included in the booklet and Waschinski’s diction leaves something to be desired, so it is tricky to work out what the texts are.

Though the Missa Cantate has moments of drama and stress, the overall feel is of an ambient take on Gorecki and as such may have its charms. The performance from the Paderewski Philharmonic Orchestra under Fernand Quattrocchi is exemplary.

The remaining shorter pieces on the disc are all smaller in scale and use a variety of remarkable instrumental combinations. All are musically quite slight but Bloch’s imaginative use of his unusual instruments provides a charm of its own. For Sancta Maria Waschinski provides all four vocal parts, accompanied by viola, glass harmonica, cristal baschet and crystal bells. Then Cold Song has Waschinski again multi-tracked seven times, with cristal baschet and waterphone. Christ Hall Blues uses Waschinski twelve times, accompanied by musical saw, cristal baschet, glass harmonica, bells and ondes martenot. Finally the Christ Hall Postlude uses just musical saw, cristal baschet and Crystal Bells.

For me, this disc appealed mainly for Bloch’s interesting use of unusual instruments—including Waschinski’s high counter-tenor—rather than from an intrinsically musical point of view., January 2011

Bloch plays and writes for a wide variety of unusual and obscure instruments, using them for emotional connection with audiences through the sheer peculiarity of their sound. Even listeners familiar with the ondes Martenot (which is played without actually touching anything) and the glass harmonica (or “armonica,” as this set of tuned glasses was sometimes called after Benjamin Franklin invented it and Mozart, among others, wrote for it) may never have heard the cristal Baschet (or crystal organ), which uses oscillating glass cylinders to produce sounds, or the waterphone (an assemblage of stainless steel, brass and sometimes water). Adept on these instruments as well as on keyboards and bells, Bloch uses the unusual sonorities of what he plays to produce works ranging from the warm to the distinctly icy. Bloch is what is usually called a “crossover” artist—he often performs film music and with rock groups—and his music crosses a number of lines, too. Missa Cantate (1999), which is an orchestral work rather than the choral one that might be expected from the title, is the length of a Romantic symphony and is filled with yearning, poignancy and emotive expressiveness. In contrast, Cold Song (2009) is even chillier than its title, using instrumental timbres to produce a thoroughly frigid effect. There is an ethereality to much of Bloch’s music, including Sancta Maria (1998), and there is a definite flavor of jazz, film, rock and what is loosely called “world music” in his compositions as well—notable in Christ Hall Blues (1990/2005) and Christ Hall Postlude (2008). Bloch is usually identified as a classical performer, and is indeed expert in works by Messiaen, Varèse and others, but his own music picks and chooses among genres with an eye (or an ear) toward sonic effectiveness for listeners. It will not be to all tastes, by any means, but it is unusual and frequently moving.

Steven Whitehead
Cross Rhythms, January 2011

It is easy to say that I have never heard anything quite like this before. Although it is not an exact parallel, the best I can come with is to ask you to imagine that Philip Glass has written a symphony in the style of Arvo Part based on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig In The Sky” with Daniel Lanois producing it. So what we have is close to being ambient music played on the most eclectic collection of instruments you are liking to hear outside of a museum of curiosities, namely glass harmonica, cristal baschet, crystal bells, waterphone, and ondes martenot all played by Thomas Bloch plus David Coulter on musical saw, along with a selection of more conventional instruments - although not necessarily played in a conventional way. But have no fear: this is not avant garde noise generation but rather thoughtful, melodic and, in places spiritual music for a new millennium. Of particular note are the vocals, in places multi-tracked, from the male soprano Jorg Waschinski, which are quite remarkable. He is a true soprano rather than a counter-tenor although I find it hard to describe the difference between a male and female soprano. The best I can do is to refer you to choirboys and choir-girls singing treble; the notes are the same but there is a difference is how they sound. Not better and not worse, just different. And “different” is the word that best sums up this recording. Bloch looks back into musical history with his setting of the Mass and a Sancta Maria and boldly steps out into the future with “Cold Song”. Although this is the very first release of 2011 to reach me I am confident that I will not hear anything else quite like it and very glad I am to have heard it too.

cossack, January 2011

A New Gem in the Repertoire

If you like pieces such as Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, the Durufle Requiem, or Preisner’s Requiem for a Friend you will like this album. The music is not as sad as Gorecki’s, or as optimistic as Lauridsen, but it is noble and majestic. The sound is clean and spacious, the tunes are striking—mostly very tonal with just enough atonality to give the music an edge. If I were grading this like a wine I’d give it a 92.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

Born in France in 1962, Thomas Bloch is best known as a performer of instruments that are on the outer fringe of classical music, and in that guise has already made a number of Naxos recordings. We know less about his music, most of the works on this release receiving their world premiere recordings. The most expansive is the Missa Cantate, lasting well over forty minutes, its ten sections corresponding to the conventional Catholic Mass. Originally for male soprano and piano, Bloch is greatly indebted to the film orchestrator, Hubert Bougis, for creating such a colourful score. Stylistically it has a passing relationship with Gorecki as it moves in that slow ethereal world the Polish composer cultivated. Without chorus, it calls for the rare vocal resources of a male soprano, a very different animal to a countertenor both in quality and range. It is here superbly sung by the German-born, Jorg Waschinski, the purity of tone resembling the anachronism of a mature boy soprano. Maybe we will never experience this performance in the concert hall, as the voice, in a beautiful halo of a church acoustic, has been added later to a prior orchestral recording. Whatever the means, I find the end product both radiant and fascinating. The four works that follow show Bloch’s penchant for uncommon instruments as he employs the Glass Harmonica, cristal Baschet, Crystal Bells, Waterphone, and ondes Martenot, all instruments that produce sounds we now associate with electronic instruments. It is mostly slow moving and I would want to dip into the disc rather than hearing all five works consecutively. As Bloch has been involved throughout the recordings, we can be take these as benchmark performances.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group