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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Track(s) taken from CDA67571
Recording details: February 2004
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Eric Wen
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 2007
Total duration: 14 minutes 25 seconds

'Both composers are served extremely well on this beautifully recorded disc, Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez in particular giving a totally convincing performance of Bloch's well-known Baal Shem … The overall impact is all the more powerful for the sure sense of pacing both artists demonstrate through the recital' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Such a fine soloist as Hagai Shaham … The Baal Shem Suite … receives an excellent performance. Shaham projects the ectsasy of the climaxes marvellously, underpinned by evocative fanfares from Arnon Erez's piano … This remains a fine release of worthwhile and relatively neglected repertoire' (International Record Review)

'Shaham's fiddle weeps with an expressive rich, dark tone, especially in the Nigun movement…' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hagai Shaham possesses the ideal kind of silver-toned, narrow-vibratoed purity to make these occasionally melodramatic pieces ring true. Rather than fall back on a well-upholstered, opulent sound, he streamlines his tone, adding a special kind of intensity to Bloch's soaring climaxes. Shaham strikes just the right balance between interpretative cool and swashbuckling bravado in Baal Shem … the recording is excellent throughout' (The Strad)

'The vibrancy of Hagai Shaham’s tone and his willingness to engage in expressive devices, apparent from the first notes of Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem, promises visceral performances of commanding penetration. That the tone, however refined, also possesses a sprinkling of grit hardly detracts from the strong-mindedness of his readings … Hagai Shaham sounds as much at home in this kind of ethnic material as in the hushed sections of the second movement or in the bold, virtuosic gestures of the third. By contrast with the Solo Sonata, Ben-Haïm’s two pieces for violin and piano present contrasting faces of romanticism, the Berceuse sfaradite, a rich melodious outpouring, and the Improvisation and Dance, a flamboyant showpiece. Those drawn in any way to these composers should find Shaham’s advocacy convincing. Strongly recommended, however, to all kinds of listeners' (Fanfare, USA)

'Shaham reveals a penetrating intensity, exalted and colorful at once' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'These [performances] are truly inspiring. Shaham is unafraid of liquid, quick portamenti in the Baal Shem Suite and he is at pains to balance Hebraic fervour with high lying lyricism. The harp-like ripple of the second movement is a testament to Erez’s involving and colour-conscious playing. Shaham intelligently varies his tone here – this is not an understated Nigun but it is one that says a lot without saying too much. The joyous buoyancy and culminatory exultation of the finale show how adept the duo has been throughout – they pace the suite extremely well … The playing is insightful, expressive, and thoroughly idiomatic. These two musicians make an articulate and important statement about both composers’ work' (MusicWeb International)

'Performances are simply electrifying, and the relentless tension that they create is almost unbearable. A vividly recorded and superbly documented disc all round' (Classical.net)

'Les interprètes abordent ces deux compositeurs avec la ferveur à la fois distanciée et fiévruese qu'ils mettaient au service de Grieg. Ils imposent une grande liberté rhapsodique, mais sans rien de maniéré. Le son de Hagai Shaham est puissant, à la fois bourru et attendri' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Hagai Shaham complète l'intégrale des oeuvres pour violon et piano de Bloch, commencée avec succès il y a deux ans. On retrouve dans le Bal Shem dans la Suite hébräique et dans les deux très rares Suites pour le violin seul, les mêmes qualités que dans les ouvrages déjà gravés: archet conquérant, superbe sonorité, phrasés élégants et intelligemment pensés donnant à l'interprétation sensualité ou spiritualité. Les trois oeuvres de Ben-Haïm—Sonate pour violin seul, Bercuese sfaradite et Improvisation et Dance —bénéficent également d'une lecture de tout premier plan … Toujours exemplaire, Anon Erez au piano, anticipe toutes les intentions de son partenaire' (Classica, France)

Baal Shem Suite
composer
1923

Vidui  [3'10]
Nigun  [6'29]
Simchas Torah  [4'46]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Bloch composed his suite Baal Shem (subtitled Three Pictures of Chassidic Life) in 1923. The work, dedicated to the memory of his mother Sophie who had died two years earlier, was inspired by two charismatic personalities. First of all, Israel ben Eliezer of Miedziboz, Poland (c1698–c1759), better known as Israel Baal Shem Tov (which translates from Hebrew as ‘Master of the Good Name’), the founder of modern Hassidism. This was a mystical movement that arose in Eastern Europe as a reaction against the perceived Rabbinical intellectualism of traditional Jewish Orthodoxy in the eighteenth century, and which placed great emphasis upon song, dance and ecstasy as channels for direct communication with God. Although Bloch came from a Western European Jewish background, he was deeply moved by a Hassidic Sabbath service that he had been invited to attend on New York’s Lower East Side in 1918. This was to have far-reaching effects on his direction as a composer. His second source of inspiration was the celebrated Swiss violinist André de Ribaupierre (1893–1955), who—during the gestation period of the suite—visited the Cleveland Institute of Music, which Bloch had founded in 1920 and which he directed until his move to the San Francisco Conservatoire in 1925. Ribaupierre gave the first public performance of the complete suite at a concert organized by the ‘Council of Jewish Women’ at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Cleveland on 6 February 1924. (An orchestral version was produced by the composer in 1939.)

The first movement, entitled Vidui (‘Contrition’), was originally named ‘Meditation’. It is a wordless prayer of repentance, concluding with a typical cadence in the traditional Eastern Ashkenazi Ahava Rabba mode, known more colloquially as Freigish.

The centrepiece of the suite is probably the best known among Bloch’s compositions for violin and piano and has retained its place in the standard repertoire as a self-standing solo work. The composer originally called this movement ‘Rhapsody’, but changed its name to Nigun (‘Improvisation’). This Hebrew and Yiddish word literally means ‘tune’, but in the Hassidic context it refers to a genre of songs, usually composed by tzaddikim (‘holy men’ or ‘saints’), the purpose of which is to transport both performer and listener to transcendental realms of spirituality. Niggunim (plural) could be either metrical or non-metrical, and they were usually set to non-semantic syllables (for example, ‘ya-ba-ba’ at a slow pace, or ‘biri-biri-bim-bom’ at a fast tempo). Although in this movement Bloch appears not to have quoted directly or intentionally from Jewish sources, the opening violin motif is identical to a phrase from Ashkenazi biblical cantillation; and one of the prominent melodies in the middle section bears a remarkable resemblance to Vos ost du mir opgeton (‘What have you done to me?’), a traditional Yiddish folksong (Frejlexs) quoted in Moshe Beregovsky’s Yevreiskiye Narodniye Pesny (‘Jewish Folk Songs’, Moscow, 1962).

The last movement, named after the festival of Simchas Torah (‘Rejoicing in the Law’), had earlier been given the Yiddish title Yontef (‘Holy Day’, from the Hebrew Yom Tov). This festival, which comes at the end of the High Holy Day season every Autumn, is the occasion on which the chanting of the last portion of Deuteronomy is immediately followed by that of the first portion of Genesis, so perpetuating the continuous cycle of Torah cantillation, amid joyful celebration and religious dancing. In the middle of this lively finale, Bloch has deliberately introduced the opening motifs of the popular Yiddish song Di Mezhinke Oisgegaybn (‘The youngest daughter married off’) by the Polish composer Mark Warshavsky (1848–1907), tossed back and forth between violin and piano.

All three movements reveal traits typical of Bloch’s music of the 1920s: extremes of melancholy and ecstasy; alternations—either gradual or abrupt—of acute intensity and deep serenity; an enormous spectrum of pitch and dynamics; powerful rhythms contrasting with passages of fluid recitative; fusions of tonality and modality.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2007

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