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Walter Simmons
Fanfare, September 2010

This is a perfectly adequate recording of four of Ernest Bloch’s lesser Jewish-oriented works. Those who are familiar with the masterpieces among the composer’s efforts to capture “the Jewish soul” in music—Schelomo, the Israel Symphony, and the Sacred Service—and are moved to expand their range of familiarity are not likely to be disappointed by this release...For example, the settings of Psalms 114 and 137, preceded by a four-minute orchestral prelude, are the earliest works (1912–14) of what has come to be known as Bloch’s “Jewish Cycle.” This is deeply heart-felt music along the same stylistic lines as his better-known pieces from this period. German soprano Christiane Oelze offers a competent reading, while American conductor Steven Sloane leads the German orchestra (formerly known as the Berlin Radio Orchestra) in a sympathetic rendition of the orchestral prelude and accompaniment...Dating from the same period are the Three Jewish Poems. These are definitely the weakest works of the “Jewish Cycle”—extravagantly exotic, flamboyantly orchestrated, but largely pictorial symphonic tableaux. Aesthetically they share more in common with the descriptive music of, say, Rimsky-Korsakov and Respighi than with the intensely personal works—both ethnically flavored and ethnically neutral—that place Bloch among the greats of the 20th century. Again we are offered an adequate reading of the works...The Baal Shem Suite is one of Bloch’s most frequently performed works, usually heard in its original version for violin and piano. However, it is far more effective in the composer’s own orchestration, which appeared in 1939. German violinist Antje Weithaas offers a fine reading, with some unusual phrasing that captures the music’s cantorial origins. I have nothing to criticize in this performance...Bloch’s Suite Hébraïque (1951) exists in several versions, the original scored for viola and piano. But there is also a version for violin and piano, as well as versions for each solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment. As always with Bloch, orchestral versions are preferable. The work itself is a little pallid emotionally, relative to the composer’s norm, but is quite attractive. (Most notable is a reference in both the first and third movements to Brahms’s Violin Concerto, which seems too obvious to be accidental, although I have never seen or heard mention of it anywhere.) German violist Tabea Zimmermann provides a superb reading of the solo part, resulting in a performance that is as good as any I’ve heard.

Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, July 2009

Ernest Bloch was a very versatile composer, who sometimes wrote in the modal-Jewish style he is often associated with. This recording shows that Bloch could do just about anything with an orchestra, just about anything with any sort of harmonic language, and that he could even defy expectations by writing Jewish-themed music that sounds completely different from what most people imagine Jewish music sounds like.

The Trois Poemes Juifs from 1913 is a deeply moving orchestral piece with a huge emotional and textural range that moves gradually from widely-spaced harmonies reminiscent of what Copland would use 20 years into the future to a dense and intense style of orchestration reminiscent of Richard Strauss in his later operas.

Bloch’s 1914 settings of Psalm 137 (By the Waters of Babylon) and Psalm 114 (When Israel Came out of Egypt) use French translations from the Hebrew by Edmond ' In Psalm 137, Christiane Oelze’s clear voice and beautiful French diction give the aural illusion that she could be singing the role of Melisande in Pelleas et Melisande, and the intensity of Psalm 114 (using a Strauss-like orchestration that recalls Salome) appropriately illustrates the text “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water”.

Written in 1923 and orchestrated in 1939, Baal-Shem, Three Pictures of Hasidic Life is one of Bloch’s most often performed works, though not often as a piece for violin and orchestra and not often in its entirety. Bloch’s orchestration gives the piece a great deal of depth, placing an equal burden of expression on the soloist and on the orchestra. Antje Weithaas’s reading is impressive and very satisfying. Also impressive is the 1951 Suite Hebraique for viola and orchestra, because of the brilliant orchestration, the truly sensitive and tasteful playing of Tabea Zimmermann, and the intimate musical rapport between the orchestra and the soloist.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

The disc contains the Two Psalms (1912) for soprano and orchestra and the Three Jewish Poems (1913) for orchestra, Baal Shem (1923), which is more convincing in its version for violin and piano than in the later orchestral version presented here. The Suite hébraïque, was originally for viola and piano (1951). Soon after writing it, he created a version for viola and orchestra, which, because the music doesn’t seem as personal as Baal Shem, works equally well in both versions. Excellent performances by soprano Christiane Oelze, violinist Antje Weithaas, violist Tabea Zimmermann. The Poems, the longest and most important work on the disc, is performed with greater clarity than any prior recording. The Psalms and Poems were among the first works in which he consciously introduced Jewish elements, evident in the augmented intervals he superimposes on a strong musical flow that seems to stem from his own personality, as expressed in his early but quite craggy symphony and the opera “Macbeth.” The orchestral works of D’Indy seem a major influence. Excellent sound.

Mike D. Brownell, May 2009

Although Ernest Bloch composed extensively throughout his long lifetime in a variety of genres, his legacy today lives on the strongest in his works inspired by his Jewish faith. The works composed from 1911 through 1916 generally are said to constitute his “Jewish Cycle” and include the Deux Psaumes for soprano and orchestra and Trois Poémes Juifs for orchestra heard here. His composition using Jewish themes and styles did not stop in 1916; however, Bloch continued in this vein in 1923 when he composed the often-performed Baal-Shem for violin and orchestra and again in 1951 with the haunting Suite Hébraïque for viola and orchestra. The string soloists assembled for this Capriccio album do a marvelous job of capturing the folk idiom Bloch was after, accentuating the distinctive augmented seconds, playing with an abundance of fervor and intensity. Violist Tabea Zimmermann’s sound, in particular, is wonderfully guttural and sensual, although this magnificent sound is sometimes obscured by the orchestra. Violinist Antje Weithaas’ playing is equally focused and intense and passionate; intonation is spot-on throughout Baal-Shem, a work that often vexes the technical capabilities of violinists…this album is very well produced with pleasing sound quality throughout.

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