Bloch: Symphony In C Sharp Minor [Dalia Atlas, London Symphony Orchestra] [Naxos: 8573241]
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Bloch: Symphony in C-Sharp Minor & Poems of the Sea
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Digital Booklet: Bloch: Symphony in C-Sharp Minor & Poems of the Sea
Digital Booklet: Bloch: Symphony in C-Sharp Minor & Poems of the Sea
Composed while Ernest Bloch was studying in Germany and before he moved to America, the richly scored Symphony in C sharp minor fits within the romantic tradition of Richard Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner. It expresses Bloch's innermost struggles and emotions, revealing his complex talents through rhapsodic forms, exceptional polyphony and modal tonalities. Inspired by Walt Whitman, the Poems of the Sea depict the oceans with striking clarity, including flavours of Irish folk music. Dalia Atlas is a leading expert on Bloch, her acclaimed recordings including America (8.557151) and Four Episodes (8.570259), "a disc not to be missed" (Penguin Guide).
Ernest Bloch's works in Jewish style have become popular repertoire pieces, but the wide range of work beyond this sphere remains neglected. Dalia Atlas has already conducted two highly successful Bloch releases for Naxos, the "fascinating and highly rewarding collection" (Penguin Guide) including the Four Episodes (8.570259) and America (8.557151). She considers Bloch's magnificent early Symphony in C minor as his "greatest and best work", and with the superb London Symphony Orchestra this will become an instant first choice.
Dalia Atlas won seven prizes in prestigious international conducting competitions, the first woman to do so, and was immediately invited to conduct major orchestras. She has undertaken extensive research into the music of Ernest Bloch to reveal and revive his neglected compositions. She is President of the Ernest Bloch Society in Israel and Vice President of the Ernest Bloch International Society in London.
'the passionate romantic heart that beats firmly throughout its hour-long span is fruitfully and stirringly tapped by the LSO under Dalia Atlas.' --The Daily Telegraph; Geoffrey Norris, 31st August 2013
'The LSO play Bloch's Symphony in C sharp minor marvellously and Dalia Atlas conducts it with understanding and conviction...All in all it is undoubtedly impressive, when played with such conviction and so well recorded too.' --Gramophone, October 2013
'The LSO's brass and woodwind excel in this magnificent recording, conducted by Bloch specialist Dalia Atlas, who displays a complete mastery of the complex, rhapsodic score.' --The Observer, 17 November 2013
'Dalia Atlas has made several distinguished recordings of Bloch's music for Naxos and this new release, with its accomplished playing from the LSO, demonstrates her continuing commitment to the composer.' --BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2013
'The LSO's playing is lustily magnificent...Atlas and the LSO dispatch the set [Poems of the Sea] with expertise and aplomb...This superb production is a worthy addition to the Naxos Bloch library. Lovers of late-Romantic orchestral splendour should not hesitate.' --International Record Review, December 2013
Top customer reviews
Excellent recording, and very good performances make this an easy recommendation on all counts.
The Symphony in C# minor was completed in 1903. As an early work, it shows the influence of the leading composers of the day, in particular Richard Strauss. To modern ears the influence of Mahler is also apparent although, it seems, Bloch had not heard any Mahler when he wrote his symphony. When the second and third movements were first performed at the Basle Festival of Swiss-German music under the direction of the composer they caused a storm. One critic suggested that the "concert police" should be employed to lock up composers guilty of such prolonged torture. Nobody would respond in this way now, though. Indeed, the symphony turns out to be an attractive and approachable work which I can confidently recommend. This is because its many pages of impressive symphonic argument are built on real tunes which you will pick up even at a first hearing. The first movement, Dalia Atlas says in the informal notes she has written for this disc, is divided into three parts "which leave their mark owing to the deep and strong emotional expression, ranging from the dark abyss and sorrow to peaks of sweeping force and then back to the dark abyss". More technically, it is a sonata structure (the recapitulation begins at 15 mins 31 secs) with an extended introduction and a coda. In this movement there is an enormous contrast between Stephen Gunzenhauser's old recording for Marco Polo and Atlas's new disc. She squeezes every ounce of "emotional expression" she can out of the piece while Gunzenhauser, adopting much faster tempi, takes a far more classical and dispassionate view. Both approaches work well though it is, perhaps, Lev Markis with the Malmo Symphony Orchestra on BIS who gets the balance right and who may, in the long run, be the easiest to live with.
The slow movement is built on a fine melody stated at the beginning by the brass. Surprisingly, Atlas takes this movement rather faster than do Gunzenhauser or Markiz, transforming it almost into a march. Atlas's performance receives the most vivid recording and this pays dividends in this movement in particular.
The scherzo is another very attractive movement, vital and full of colour. The trio is built on a folk-like tune. There is not a great deal to choose between the three recordings in this movement.
The symphony is cyclic and, in common with so many Romantic symphonies, its finale is slightly less satisfying. It begins with a fugue (often a sign that a composer is running short of ideas!) and later on there is another fugato. Eventually the counterpoint gives way to a passage of dominant preparation which ushers in a full-scale statement of the slow movement's march theme. The main theme from the first movement also returns. Eventually, after the march has been heard one last time, this splendid symphony ends quietly.
All three currently available performances of this symphony have their merits then but, if I had to choose one, it would be the new Naxos disc. You may, though, find Atlas's approach to the first movement somewhat overwrought in which case the BIS recording would be the one to go for. That disc also has the advantage of including a fine performance of "Schelomo". Atlas's disc has the "Poems of the Sea", an attractive Impressionistic piece whose finale would have benefited from a slightly faster tempo.
The LSO under Dalia Atlas, who is something of a Bloch specialist, handle this score with remarkable control and enthusiasm, given that this must be new music to them. But then sight reading and performing with little rehersal is something of their speciality. If there is sound or two that migt be just a bit edgy, one must remember that the demands put on the players are extraordinary. Highly recommended!
The music is well recorded in the manner that is Naxos, and is efficiently played by the LSO under Dalia Atlas - a newcomer to my experience. The disc is good value and, in particular, the symphony is one that I look forward to getting to know more deeply with further playings.
Ernest Bloch is an unusual composer and at times it is difficult to hear his individual voice. But works like this do deserve more performances and certainly Dalia Atlas has great empathic understanding of the composer. All in all an interesting buy.
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