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Hyperion Records

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Photograph from the series Last Folio (Slovakia, 2005-2011) by Yuri Dojc
Track(s) taken from CDA67910
Recording details: September 2011
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Simon Kiln
Engineered by Arne Akselberg
Release date: August 2012
Total duration: 20 minutes 6 seconds

'A breathtakingly beautiful dialogue between Natalie Clein and the BBC Scottish Symphony conducted by Ilan Volkov. Clein manages to explore the profound depths of [Bloch's Schelomo] and all its vocal expressivity without exaggeration or hyperbole and the orchestra's response feels minted in the moment rather than pre-planned. I'm not sure I've heard a more convincing modern account on disc. An immaculate recording' (BBC Radio 3 CD Review)

'[Clein's performance of Schelomo] is thoughtful, subtle and satisfying, well supported by the passionate and spirited BBC SSO: … in Voice in the Wilderness,Clein encompasses all the work's varied character and demands while retaining an air of polish in her playing … the Bruch, too, receives a lovely performance, with Clein bringing out the different colour of each of the cello's strings and the orchestra effecting most beautifully the transition from sombre to heavenly' (Gramophone) » More

'The strongly emotive musical aura of Bloch's Schelomo seems ideally suited to Natalie Clein's impassioned style of cello playing … Clein delivers a powerfully committed performance, but also manages to avoid over-indulgence, negotiating the peaks and troughs of the music's volatile emotional language with a clear sense of direction. Undoubtedly, Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra play a vital role in this process. Volkov brings a welcome transparency to Bloch's languorous instrumentation in the reflective secions, while the raging torrents of the orchestral tuttis have rarely sounded more highly charged' (BBC Music Magazine) » More
PERFORMANCE
RECORDING

'Natalie Clein is the cello protagonist in all four works, her range of tonal colour, her animation and her discreet soulfulness proving to be ideal qualities … the relationship between cello and orchestra is closely knit, Ilan Volkov conducting the BBC SSO with just the impetus and sensibility that this music requires' (The Daily Telegraph) » More

'Natalie Clein gives an unexaggerated performance pursuing the music's linearity and playing from the heart while conjuring some appropriate dark tone from her instrument … the music takes wing to both beguile and thrill. It's one of the most persuasive performances of this work [Schelomo] that I have ever heard … throughout, the recording is as vivid as the music … an outstanding release' (International Record Review) » More

'Clein and Volkov give a performance of Schelomo (1916) that is very moving, both in its profound sensuality and in the pervasive sense of transience that gnaws at its vision of worldly glory. They bring the same commitment to From Jewish Life (1924) and Voice in the Wilderness (1936) … the other knockout is Bruch's Kol Nidrei … beautifully done, it brings the disc to a reflective close. Highly recommended' (The Guardian) » More

'Natalie Clein's inspired collection of [Bloch's] three cello works on Jewish themes … is rare and welcome. Her impassioned, sensitive playing finds willing collaborators in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and their former principal conductor' (The Sunday Times) » More

'Clein plunges deep into the world of Bloch's Schelomo as she effectively forms a red-hot line of communication with the listener in both its introspective, brooding moments and its soulful outbursts. The orchestra's string section produces a flawless body of sound and the balance is nicely judged' (The Strad)

'If one has enjoyed the music in those epic biblical movies of the last century, mostly starring Charlton Heston, chances are one will also respond to the works of the composer who influenced that genre. The Swiss-American Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) also wrote much secular music, but he will be best remembered for the works that reflect his Jewish heritage … completing this gorgeously performed anthology by young British cellist Natalie Clein is Max Bruch’s popular Kol Nidrei … essential listening' (Singapore Straits Times)

'Clein is a gifted interpreter of these nearly sacred musical themes, lovingly devoted to expressing the composers’ visions of what she calls 'the early 20th century yearning for a sense of identity and nostalgia for an imagined past, a past already being swept aside in favor of modernity and globalization.' And kudos to the talented Israeli conductor Ilan Volkov, whose sympathetic, restrained approach never treads on the tender solo cello passages—Clein and Volkov are a match made in heaven' (Strings, USA) » More

'You cannot wish to hear a clearer, lovelier investigation of Bloch’s Jewish decade' (Norman Lebrecht)

'[Clein] hat das nötige Einfühlungsvermögen, die starken, aufwühlenden, dunklen Klangfarben, die gelegentlichen Abstiege in seelische Abgründe mit der herzlichen Heiterkeit der volkstümlichen Klänge fein dosiert zu kombinieren. Hier gibt es keine schmachtende Melancholie und eben so wenig überschäumende Fröhlichkeit, dafür viel Sensibilität, viel Lyrik und schöne dynamische Kontraste' (Pizzicato, Luxembourg)

Schelomo
composer
January to February 1916; Rhapsodie hébraïque; dedicated to Alexandre and Katja Barjansky; first performed by Hans Kindler at Carnegie Hall in 1917

Schelomo  [20'06]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schelomo, subtitled ‘Rhapsodie hébraïque’, was written in the space of six weeks during January and February 1916. Bloch had, over a number of years, noted down thematic ideas for a vocal setting of selected verses from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, the authorship of which is attributed to King Solomon (Hebrew: Schelomo) who reigned some 3000 years ago. Bloch had felt, however, that French, German or English were somehow unsuitable for the purpose, and that his grasp of Hebrew was inadequate. Coming into contact with the celebrated Russian cellist Alexandre Barjansky (1883–1961) and his wife Katja in Geneva towards the end of 1915 (some six years after their first meeting), Bloch was keen to share with them his ‘Jewish Cycle’ in general, and this new work in particular. Barjansky was greatly moved by what he heard. Realizing that the cello was the solution to the language problem, Bloch reformulated his sketches and passed them to Alexandre for scrutiny, while Katja at the same time made a small sculpture of King Solomon. In gratitude, Bloch dedicated Schelomo to the Barjanskys.

According to Bloch: ‘It is possible to imagine that the solo cello is the incarnation of King Solomon, and that the orchestra represents his internal world and his experience of life, though sometimes it is the orchestra that seems to reflect Solomon’s thoughts, while the solo instrument voices his words: “All is vanity.”’ Bloch places much emphasis on the king’s pessimism, despite ‘the royal pomp, the treasure, the wealth, the power, the women, all that a man might desire in this world’, and ‘the barbaric coloration of an Oriental world’ that surround him. The rhapsodic manner and glittering instrumentation may give the work an improvised air, but the underlying structure is a sturdy ‘ternary’ form (ABA), plus an introduction and coda.

The heroic melody that appears before and during the great orchestral climaxes occurring towards the end of the first and third sections of Schelomo is built upon motifs that bear a remarkable resemblance to the those of Tzur Yisroel (‘Rock of Israel’), a traditional chant that Bloch received from Reuben Rinder (1887–1966, Cantor at Temple Emanu-El, San Francisco) in the late 1920s while preparing his Avodath Hakodesh (‘Sacred Service’, 1930–33). Nevertheless, although numerous motifs throughout the six published works of the ‘Jewish Cycle’ are the composer’s subconscious transformations of biblical and cantorial chant, in only one instance did Bloch acknowledge that he had consciously taken a melody from a traditional source—a motif that his father ‘sang often, in Hebrew’, which appears for the first time at the beginning of the middle section of Schelomo. Bloch quoted the Hebrew text in a letter written to his mother four years after the work had been completed; and the melody is, in fact, an adaptation of a South German cantorial chant Uv’chen ten pachdecha, sung in Ashkenazi synagogues during High Holy Days.

‘Almost all my works, even the darkest ones, still end optimistically, or at least with some hope. This is the only one that concludes in complete negation. But the subject demanded it.’ The opening of Ecclesiastes confirms Bloch’s observation: ‘The words of Kohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith Kohelet … And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven … and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.’

Despite the enormously demanding technical skills required of the soloist, this is not a concerto in the usual sense, and virtuosity is always the servant of that expressiveness in which the spiritual and sensual are fused.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2012

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