Steven Sloane

Ernest Bloch: Deux Psaumes; Suite hébraïque; Baal-Shem; Trois poèmes juifs

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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 Troi 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. Soprano Christiane Oelze is the only performer whose sound doesn't seem to match the music at hand, with a wide vibrato that seems better suited for Wagnerian opera than Bloch. On the whole, though, this album is very well produced with pleasing sound quality throughout.

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