Hyperion Records

Piano Quintet No 2
February to July 1957; commissioned by The University of California for the inauguration of the Alfred Hertz Memorial Hall of Music; first performed there by Marjorie Petray and the Griller Quartet on 15 April 1958

'Bloch: Piano Quintets' (CDA67638)
Bloch: Piano Quintets
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67638 
Movement 1: Animato
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro

Piano Quintet No 2
The Piano Quintet No 2, composed between February and July 1957, was the last piece of chamber music that Bloch wrote. He was already suffering from the colonic cancer to which he finally succumbed two years later, and had been unsure as to whether he would live long enough to complete the commission received from the Music Department of the University of California at Berkeley to contribute a work for the inauguration of the Alfred Hertz Memorial Hall of Music during the May T Morrison Festival in 1958. Bloch was characteristically determined to honour this invitation, especially as he had had a close relationship with Berkeley; and indeed, of the six composers invited to join in this project (the others being Arthur Bliss, Darius Milhaud, Roger Sessions, William O Smith, and Randall Thompson), his was the first work to be submitted. The premiere was given by Marjorie Petray and the Griller Quartet in the Hertz Hall on 15 April 1958.

The opening movement, Animato, begins energetically with a four-bar introduction leading to the first of several themes, two of which are dodecaphonic tone rows. However, as with his quarter-tones, Bloch had no intention of creating or following a ‘system’. In fact, he eschewed ‘serial’ composition, preferring, rather, to use all twelve semitones of the chromatic scale within a tonal/modal context. In this work he emphasized his individual approach by inserting into the first row two extra notes, a perfect fifth apart. Elsewhere, there are tritones in abundance, wide leaps alternating with scalic contours, motifs and harmonic progressions assembled in an ever-rising sequence, passages of gritty homophony juxtaposed with flowing polyphony, dissonances resolving into consonances, and an exploration of the entire dynamic range—tending, however, more to forte than to piano.

The slow movement, Andante, offers a further example of Bloch’s love of the mystical, the lyrical, and the pastoral. It is an air with variations, beginning in C sharp minor, replete with oscillating triplet figurations in the piano part, and mellifluous counterpoint in the strings. Shortly before the climax near the end of the movement there are two passages that are reminiscent of prominent motifs from Schelomo and the Suite hébraïque.

Following without a break is the finale, Allegro, characterized by its motoric drive. Much of the writing is similar to that of the first movement. However, after a series of cascading scales, the mood changes and the tempo broadens into the concluding Calmo section which brings the work to a close—pianissimo—in the key of E major.

from notes by Alexander Knapp © 2007

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