Ernest Bloch: Symphony in C sharp minor; Poems of the Sea

Dalia Atlas / London Symphony Orchestra

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Ernest Bloch: Symphony in C sharp minor; Poems of the Sea Review

by James Manheim

Ernest Bloch's Symphony in C sharp minor was written in 1900, when the composer was 20 and studying in Germany. It is an absolutely charming student work. The booklet to this Naxos release speaks of "inner struggles" and "turmoil, hopes, desires, joy, sorrow, and despair," and indeed the conductor and Bloch specialist Prof. Dalia Atlas is following the recollections of Bloch himself in this regard. It may all be true enough, but the appeal of the work lies rather in the way the young composer digests the styles of some hugely individualistic composers of his day, principally Strauss, Mahler, and Bruckner, and boils them down to a final exam-ready four-movement symphony of reasonable length. This would seem to be a tall order, but Bloch condenses these inherently sprawling models in countless clever ways. Hear the way the slow movement disperses itself into Mahler's concertante treatment of the orchestra and then reforms, for example. The Poems of the Sea, inspired by poetry of Walt Whitman, are later pieces, composed in 1922; this, too, is a neglected work, notable for its incorporation of Irish folk music in a somewhat mystical manner completely different from that of the English pastoralists. The London Symphony Orchestra seems genuinely enthused by the music, and the sound from Abbey Road studios is above average. One can't help thinking how the symphony would make an excellent first half for a concert devoted to one of the big Mahler symphonies for its final barn-burner. Well worth the time of Bloch enthusiasts.

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