This CD (Praga PRO-250-185) is pure musical euphoria! I long have cherished and loved Ernest Bloch's First Piano Quintet. For years I have wanted to hear the Second Piano Quintet, which went unrecorded commercially for decades on end, but finally it, too, has appeared on CD in a number of performances. I have had a printed edition of the Second Piano Quintet`s performing score and parts in my personal collection for many years, and I once intensively studied the printed score, trying out the music at times on the piano (a magnificently restored, prime vintage Chickering concert grand), but always had difficulty really coming to grips adequately with this complex work in that manner. Alas, I never was able so much as to find an opportunity to play (as 'cellist) the second quintet with my musical friends, even though I long have had the score and parts of it for such potential use, due to the music's level of difficulty, which goes considerably beyond what one can expect of the amateur chamber music adepts with whom I usually played. Well, the second quintet, about half the length in playing time as the first of Bloch's piano quintets, turns out, indeed, to be a masterpiece in its own right, but it nonetheless is the performance of the first quintet, musically superior to the later work, that makes this new recording, in such a blazingly fervent and superior performance, even more a "must" to acquire.
The Kocian Quartet with Ivan Klànsky as pianist for Praga`s CD just possibly may play the First Quintet as well and as powerfully as the Fine Arts Quartet, with pianist Frank Glazer, had done so for a venerable Concert-Disc LP recording (issue no. 252) which I came close to wearing out from listening to it repeatedly over a long expanse of time. (Alas, I cannot access my copy at present, to make a spot-on comparison of the two recordings, after the disruption of a post-retirement move.) Even if the Klànsky-Kocian performance of the first piano quintet very likely is as good as, or perhaps even superior to, the earlier Glazer-Fine Arts recording, the latter now remains a pioneeringly historic one for this work which really should be reissued. One very good CD disc-mate an ideal coupling for such a potential reissue, would be with another vintage recording of Bloch`s chamber music, the Fine Arts Quartet's exceedingly fine recorded remdition of Bloch's Fifth String Quartet (that quartet, as the Fine Arts Quartet recorded it, once having been available on LP as Concert-Disc 1225 in mono, 225 in stereo, then still later on another LP, as Everest 3328). However, a later effort by the Portland String Quartet (as one of two works on Arabesque CD, no. Z-6627) is adequate enough to fill in currently for that Fine Arts recorded performnce of the Fifth Quargtet. As for Bloch`s other major mature chamber music, the recordings by the Griller String Quartet, so closely associated with the composer, of Bloch's preceding four string quartets are avaiable on a fine Decca (U.K.) double-CD reissue in its "Original Masters" series (474-6021-D-C-2), but, alas, the Griller String Quartet did not survive collectively long enough to have the opportunity to record Bloch's fifth and last quartet. Of the currently available recordings of the Fifth Quartet, all are very inferior to that of the Fine Arts Quartet, a group whose recorded legacy needs to resurface further than it has done so to date on CD (though a revival of interest in this group seems to be gathering force), not only for its recorded performances of Bloch's chamber works, but also for its supremely fine recordings of all of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's music for string quartet and for numerous cherishable recordings of works by Paul
Hindemith and by many other composers.
The Klànsky-Kocian performances of both of Bloch's two quintets for piano and strings constitute a recording to treasure. It is not often that currently active string quartet formations can rise to the level of sheer exultant, effulgent, large-scale expressivity which these works require. Klànsky and the Kocian Quartet do just that, to rapturous effect. What sublimely excitingly propulsive, truly inebriating music these quintets are, especially the first of them! The second quintet, compared to the first, is a more prickly and rather more abrasively modernistic work (but with some ravishingly beautiful writing in the second movement and in the latter part of the third), being even more expressionist in hue than the music of the relatively more romantically-spirited (yet quite harmonically tangy for its time) first quintet. The vivid sonics of the recording on the Praga Digitals label also are a big plus in such richly textured music.
To summarise, for a maximum of Bloch`s most essential chamber music on the fewest currently available CDs (as of mid-2012), the collector well might envisage obtaining the following CDs:
-- the Kocian String Quartet`s CD of the two Bloch quintets for piano and strings, with Ivan Klànsky as the pianist (Praga PRO-250-185),
-- the Griller performances of Bloch`s first four numbered string quartets (Decca [U.K.] 475 6071),
-- the Portland String Quartet`s recording of the Fifth Quartet (coupled with the fourth, Arabesque Recordings Z-6627), and
-- the Galatea Quartet`s recording of Bloch`s early (and substantial) unnumbered string quartet (in G), released on a CD that also includes some of Bloch`s shorter works for string quartet, which Sony Classical has released (88697-95024-2).
Buy, listen, enjoy! N.B.: The above text is the May 2012 revision of this review, first written and posted in July 2007.