Various Artists

Bloch: Violin Concerto; Schelomo; Sacred Service

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Though his music encompasses a variety of compositional styles, Ernest Bloch is largely remembered for his music inspired by his Jewish heritage. It is not surprising, then, that this EMI two-disc set of Bloch's most treasured works should open with Schelomo, rhapsody for cello & orchestra, by far Bloch's most frequently performed composition in modern concert halls. This particular recording features cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (whose name is criminally omitted from the album's cover) with the Orchestre National de France under Leonard Bernstein. Although he did not premiere Schelomo, Rostropovich was largely responsible for championing the work and ensuring its place in the repertoire. His performance here speaks to his deep commitment and passion for the work as it is filled with passion, agony, and fervor. The set continues with other seminal, historical recordings of Bloch's output including Maurice Abravanel's interpretation with the Utah Symphony of the little-performed Avodath Hakodesh -- a rare Jewish version of the more common mass settings -- and Marriner's edgy, driven reading of the Concerto Grosso No. 1, one of Bloch's works that does not incorporate an overt Jewish component. Rounding out the second disc is Yehudi Menuhin playing the Violin Concerto, which curiously juxtaposes Hebrew-inspired melodies with seemingly stereotypical American Indian motifs, as well as two suites for solo violin. Like Rostropovich, Menuhin was a champion of these works and his intense, committed playing here is evidence of his close, personal connection. EMI's restored sound throughout the set is generally clear and nicely balanced.

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