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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: 23 minutes 55 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

'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)

Voice in the Wilderness
1936; symphonic poem with cello obbligato; originally conceived for solo piano, then for cello and piano (1935) and finally for cello and orchestra

Moderato  [2'45]
Poco lento  [4'01]
Moderato  [2'34]
Adagio piacevole  [4'37]
Allegro gioioso  [5'58]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Bloch’s second large-scale work for cello and orchestra, Voice in the Wilderness, was written some two decades after the first, yet the intimate relationship between the two compositions is tangible. However, there are subtle differences, not only in overall architecture, but also in musical colour: Schelomo has been described as ‘red and gold’, Voice in the Wilderness as ‘bronze and brown’. The composer described this series of meditations as follows: ‘The various movements follow and link each other quite naturally. They are sometimes bound together by a barely perceptive thematic relationship or “reminiscence” but each has its own clearly defined character.’

The work was originally conceived for the piano—and indeed there is a separate version for piano solo, entitled Visions et Prophéties (comprising five of the six movements), which Bloch composed subsequently. But at this early stage the composer found himself constantly singing counterpoints while playing through the work. Despite suffering from poor health at the time, Bloch persevered with its construction and decided to add a cello part. Although it was still incomplete, Bloch, with Alexandre Barjansky who was visiting him in June 1935 in Paris (where he was living temporarily), played sections of it to Edmond Fleg (1874–1963)—librettist for Bloch’s operas Macbeth and Jézabel, and three Psalm settings. The great enthusiasm with which it was greeted encouraged Bloch to finish the cello-and-piano version by mid-August 1935, and the cello-and-orchestra version in late January 1936.

The process of finding a suitable title was arduous. Bloch had sent his friend Carl Engel a detailed analysis of his composition including indications as to the fluctuations of mood and atmosphere within each movement. Engel recalls that, during his subsequent visit to Bloch (now domiciled in Châtel, Haute-Savoie), he was deeply moved by the religious fervour and prophetic eloquence of Bloch’s performance on the piano; and the image of a ‘Voice in the Wilderness’ came spontaneously into his mind. Without hesitation, the composer wrote these words on the first page of his manuscript since, for him, this title perfectly evoked the journey of the soul through the whole spectrum of life’s experience.

Each of the six short movements has, in principle, the same bipartite structure: the first section, purely orchestral, is where the thematic material is presented; the second is where the solo cello enters, to orchestral accompaniment, and reflects melodically and rhythmically upon the mood and ethos of what has come just before. Any description of mood is bound to be subjective, especially since no specific ‘programme’ per se was intended by Bloch. But the following indicators might give a general impression of the emotional world depicted in each movement. The first expresses a grave and solemn sentiment, and the second reveals touches of bitterness; the third is more energetic and extrovert in character, whereas the fourth enters an idyllic dream-like dimension; the fifth, like the third, is more lively and forceful, and ends with a passionate and highly chromatic cadenza for solo cello; and the sixth, the longest of all, radiates joy, confidence, hope, and ‘the victory of the spirit’, concluding with a diatonic melody redolent of purification and peace. All the movements follow each other without a break—except for a brief pause between the last two. Unity is ensured by the use of ‘cyclic’ form, where themes presented in earlier movements recur, sometimes identically and sometimes in different guises, in later movements. This is a feature common to many of Bloch’s works.

Although there are no conscious quotations from the traditional melodic repertoire, the fingerprints of Bloch’s ‘Jewish’ style are ubiquitous: the use of traditional Ashkenazi and Middle Eastern modal resonances in general, and the frequent appearance of the augmented-second interval (often with semitones on either side) in particular; bare parallel fourths or fifths; dotted and ‘Scotch snap’ rhythms; frequent changes of tempo and metre; dynamic extremes; vivid contrasts of intensity and calm—sometimes gradual, sometimes abrupt. Musical affinities with earlier compositions such as Trois Poèmes juifs (1913), the three Psalms, 137, 114, 22 (1912–14), Israel Symphony (1915–16), Schelomo (1916), String Quartet No 1 (1916), Baal Shem Suite (1923), and the ‘Sacred Service’ (1930–33)—as well as anticipations of future works such the Violin Concerto (1938) and Suite hébraïque (1951)—may be found here in abundance.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2012

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