In a sea of faithlessly grandstanding recordings, Natalie Clein's new disc of works by Ernest Bloch and Max Bruch makes for a reverent listening experience. Written in search of musical identity, these mysterious and mournful works require passionate communicators. Clein, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ivan Volkov do a suitably velvety job.
Bloch had an innate understanding of the cello's sonic qualities, which melded superbly with his nostalgic interpretation of Hebrew chant and psalm. Embracing, as he saw it, 'the vigor of the Patriarchs, the violence in the books of the Prophets, the burning love of justice, the sorrow and the grandeur of the Book of Job, the sensuality of the Song of Songs', Bloch's undimmed emotion finds a winning voice in Clein.
There is great sensuality to her playing, with the gentle bending of a note or a slight abrasive touch at the heel of the bow. It works superbly in Christopher Palmer's orchestral arrangement of From Jewish Life and the post-chant ululations of Bruch's Kol Nidrei. Yet there could be more violence here, which remains untapped on the disc until Ivan Volkov takes the reins in the last two movements of Bloch's Voice in the Wilderness. Clein could afford to play with more abandon at the tops of the phrases in Schelomo - as Mischa Maisky does on his unbeatable recording with Bernstein and the Israeli Philharmonic. And, in resolutely pensive series of tracks, there is room for a chink more light.
But these are minor quibbles in what is a highly engaging recording. There's nothing ersatz about Clein's performance, particularly in the rhetoric and flow she conjures with the orchestra. And even if the BBC Scottish is occasionally too hazy in the mix, Volkov elicits a suitably gravelly bass and a dash of vigor.