Hagai Shaham

Bloch: Baal Shem Suite; Suite hébraïque; Ben-Haim: Sonata in G

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Bloch: Baal Shem Suite; Suite hébraïque; Ben-Haim: Sonata in G Review

by Mike D. Brownell

This CD of violin works for violin by Ernest Bloch and Paul Ben Haim offers quite a mixed bag in terms of both composition and performance. Bloch is most widely recognized for his compositions that are infused with Jewish and Hebrew folk elements, and with good reason; it is in this idiom that he produced his most easily accessible and enjoyable pieces of music. From this period, this album features the Baal Shem Suite and Suite hébraïque, both written for violin and piano. Not only does this seem to be Bloch's forte, but violinist Hagai Shaham's as well. Shaham's playing in these two works is replete with a heavy right arm; a deep, throaty sound; and fast, aggressive vibrato -- in other words, an ideal gypsy-like timbre that suits these compositions perfectly. The two suites for solo violin are a completely different story. Stylistically completely different from the first two works, the suites are much more angular, disjointed, and abstract. Shaham's playing does very little to clear things up for the listener, and it seems that without the piano to support him, concepts such as pulse and meter are hopelessly lost. What that leaves for the listener is a sense of unbridled chaos and indistinguishable rhythms -- not at all a pleasing listening experience. Menuhin's 1975 EMI recording of these two suites is far preferred and much easier for listeners to digest.

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