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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Track(s) taken from CDA67439
Recording details: February 2004
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Eric Wen
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 2005
Total duration: 6 minutes 50 seconds

'Bloch's first Sonata given a 'devastating performance' … If there is any justice, this fine new recording will win these undervalued works new friends. Please try these sonatas, whether or not you already know them' (BBC Radio 3 CD Review)

'With fine engineering, realistically balanced, and excellent annotation, this is a digital front-runner' (Gramophone)

'Mix Bartok, Debussy and a dash of Lisztian bravado and you'll get something very close to Bloch's folksong-inflected, post-Romantic sound-world. Intoxicating performances guaranteed to set the pulse racing' (BBC Music Magazine)

'In both works, Shaham meets Bloch's extreme technical demands without flinching; and his timbral control is dazzling throughout (his ability to spin silk at the top of his register is especially astonishing). Pianist Arnon Erez seconds him admirably, whether the score demands that he engage in intricate give-and-take with the violinist or that he slip off into a different world entirely' (International Record Review)

'Played with lean intensity and dead-centre intonation reminiscent of the young Heifetz, these neglected works come fizzing off the page to mesmerising effect' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hagai Shaham…(compared to Isaac Stern's recording of the first sonata) plays with similar intensity if not with equally ecstatic frenzy … Hagai Shaham, who has championed the music of violinist-composers Joseph Achron and, more recently, Jenö Hubay, produces a steely rather than a sumptuous tone. His grandiloquent oratorical flourishes, as well as his edgy technical display, therefore flash like tempered steel, however, leaving the least trace of coldness … So another disc or so from Shaham could encompass everything Bloch wrote for the violin (and perhaps even include the concerto). Given the strong appeal of this initial offering, that's a consummation devoutly to be wished. Highly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Shaham impresses in all aspects of these sonatas. His manner is fiery, his tone is full-bodied from a top of great purity to a bottom deep and resonant, and he tosses off the virtuoso passages with aplomb. Erez is a full partner, sometimes coming close to usurping the lead, which can be all to the good here. He roams the keyboard with assurance, playing with crisp exactitude and full-bodied tone' (ClassicsToday.com)

'Here Shaham and Erez play with wonderful empathy and understanding, undoubtedly this is music that they feel with a deep passion. The aching Molto quieto is also very beautiful whilst the concluding Moderato really kicks off a whirlwind of activity that has Shaham on true top form…this whole disc is a definite must for lovers of solo violin especially those with a penchant for Bloch's unique music' (Classical.net)

'It's a credit to Shaham and accompanist Arnon Erez that this work carries such a punch. Bloch's knowledge of the violin—he was taught by a master in Ysaye—means that the passagework is frequently taxing, but with this completely under his fingers Shaham has no worry' (MusicOHM.com)

'Hagai Shaham confirms a remarkable talent, which goes far beyond the technical performance … This disc is essential at the head of a rather thin but high level catalogue [of this repertoire]' (Diapason, France)

'Bloch of emotions: vehemence and serenity, stud and certainty, poetry, brutality, sensuality, spirituality: the interpretation which is delivered to us by Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez is of an incredible richness … But it is especially the interpretation of the five works which confers all its richness. There Hagai Shaham signs one of the most beautiful versions of these partitions: all is translated in a way subtle and inspired by a bow of an absolute control, a sumptuous sonority and a vibrato of an infinite diversity… in this album, Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez, which one will never say enough the virtues of executants and especially of interpreters, reach the level of excellence' (Classica, France)

Abodah
composer
1928

Abodah  [6'50]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Since the early years of the twentieth century, Bloch had been struggling with a full-length biblical opera on the story of Jezebel (which had earlier catalysed the composition of the six works of the ‘Jewish Cycle’). In order to revitalize his enthusiasm for this enormous project once he had settled in New York in 1917, Bloch searched the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–06) for traditional melodies from all over the Jewish world and notated most of them in a manuscript book that he entitled Chants juifs. In the margins, he wrote colourful comments as to the suitability of certain tunes as leitmotifs for characters in the opera. Although Jézabel never progressed beyond a mass of manuscript sketches, now preserved in the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Bloch used many of the collected materials in other works, including Abodah (1928).

At the beginning of 1928, Bloch heard the young Yehudi Menuhin perform in San Francisco, and was so moved that he felt impelled to write a work for him. The result was Abodah (God’s Worship), subtitled ‘A Yom Kippur Melody’, completed in December of the same year and immediately premiered by Menuhin and Louis Persinger in Los Angeles. The melody is a traditional Eastern European Ashkenazi synagogal chant, Vehakkohanim, rendered by the cantor during the ‘Musaf’ (‘Additional’) Service in the early afternoon on the Day of Atonement – the most solemn festival in the Jewish calendar. The text commemorates the ancient rites performed by the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, and describes the tense scene as the High Priest utters the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, in the Inner Sanctuary. (The High Priest, in each generation, was the only Jew who had the religious status and authority to pronounce this, the most sacred of the seven traditional Hebrew names for God.) There are twenty basic motifs in this chant which vary not only in length and character, but also in Jewish modality. In Chants juifs, Bloch marked certain ascending and descending phrases in the Ahava Rabba mode (akin to the Arabic Maqam Hijjaz, or the harmonic minor on the fifth degree) for special attention. The transfer from voice to violin necessitated a number of alterations to the original chant in terms of range and structure; and Bloch added his own piano introduction which is mirrored in the coda.

Bloch’s clearly stated priority was always to give expression to the whole gamut of human emotions; and it was to this end that the technical demands pervading his violin writing were dedicated. So much of the language of the early to mid-twentieth century may be found in this repertoire: muted passages, pizzicato, sul ponticello, col legno, tremolando, harmonics, double-stopping, often in combination. And in all of this the piano is an equal partner, producing a vast palette of colours across the entire keyboard: for example, arpeggio figurations, ostinatos, unusual textures created by the use of familiar triads in unexpected superimpositions. The overall style may be described as motivic (though there are occasional extended melodies), rhapsodic, intense, constantly alternating – either gradually or abruptly – between extremes of passion and serenity. And there is, throughout, an uncompromising honesty and integrity that speaks directly to the heart.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2005

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