Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo (Rhapsodie hébraïque) is one of the composer’s most moving works (part of a Jewish cycle of six works written between 1912 and 1916) that was inspired by the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes and the story of Solomon. Many regard it as Bloch’s signature work. It opens with a riveting solo, descending cello passage that plumbs the depths of emotion. Thirty-five-year-old acclaimed British cellist Natalie Clein nails it, pulling the listener into the epic symphonic narrative that follows, which is rife with mournful soliloquies.
On this stunning disc, the follow-up to the cellist’s Kodály CD, Clein teams the sprawling, 20-minute, single-movement Schelomo with Bloch’s wistful 1924 three-movement work From Jewish Life, shining during the cello solo at the close of the opening 'Prayer' movement, reveling in the work’s rich two-part counterpoint, and delivering a stirring reading of the final melodic 'Jewish Song' movement (which reflects Bloch’s training as a violinist).
Bloch’s second big-scale piece, Voice in the Wilderness, written 20 years after Schelomo, draws its essence from that earlier work.
Bloch noted that the movements are bound together by the theme of 'reminiscence' and there is a strong meditative mood to many of the passages (the work was conceived for the piano), especially the ethereal finale. Throughout, Clein shows restraint when needed, opting to carry these sonic prayers aloft on wings of rich, warm, round tone.
Nowhere is that more obvious than her stirring treatment of the closing track, Max Bruch’s nine-minute, single movement Kol Nidrei ('Adagio on Hebrew Melodies', Op 47).
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.