Ernest Bloch

Violin Concerto

    Description by James Reel

    Bloch's full-bodied, large-scale, colorfully scored violin concerto has never caught on in the concert hall, despite early championing by the soloist who commissioned it, Joseph Szigeti. Bloch had studied with Ysaÿe, but he hadn't touched the violin in years until this commission arrived; he took it up again in an effort to write as idiomatically for the instrument as possible.

    The work's original program notes stated that Bloch quotes Native American themes (Bloch had spent the 1920s in the United States), but this is not quite correct; he does allude to American Indian music without using authentic melodies, but for that matter he also alludes to the same cantorial sort of eastern European and eastern Mediterranean music that suffused his more popular Schelomo. Indeed, the Hebraic influence seems especially strong here, particularly in the third movement, but Bloch insisted, "I can only say that in it there is neither Jewish inspiration nor intention."

    The first of the three movements, Allegro deciso, begins with a horn call whose first measure might have been plucked straight from Schelomo, but which settles into an ominous rhythmic figure that would become a cliché in later cowboy-and-Indian movies. This and two brief, more singing melodies provide the basic material for the movement, which subjects the themes to a series of transformations. The music is highly rhapsodic with frequent tempo changes, yet Bloch praised Szigeti for not pulling the music around too much.

    The brief, dreamlike Andante alludes even more strongly to Bloch's earlier Hebraic-Impressionist style. The music is dark and exotically modal, with the soloist frequently pulling out of the movement's basic processional plod and leading the orchestra into freer, more restless rhythmic and harmonic material. The final movement, "Deciso," arrives with a confident yet dour orchestral introduction, whereupon the violin arrives with melodic and rhythmic echoes of the first movement, and soon introduces new thematic material. Again, Bloch favors a rhapsodic, transformational approach to his themes, shifting from lyrical episodes to playful interludes, ending with a grand, extroverted passage into which the quotation from the first movement insinuates itself one last time.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro deciso - Moderato assai
    2. Andante
    3. Deciso

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2011 Decca CDDCA785
    2010 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099945631
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Artek 42
    2007 Naxos 8557757
    2006 Artone 222357
    2005 Zephyr 13104
    2003 Naxos Historical 8110973
    2002 NM Classics 97016
    2001 Andante 2991-2994
    2000 Supraphon 3169
    1999 Symposium 1226
    1995 BIS 639
    1993 Vanguard 4046
    1993 ASV 785
    1993 Pearl 9938
    1992 Music & Arts 720
    Supraphon 110674