Ernest Bloch composed his three unaccompanied Cello Suites for the charismatic performer Zara Nelsova during the late 1950’s when he was living in retirement at Agate Beach in Oregon. In contrast to the exotic and consciously Hebraic modes of expression he exploited in famous works such as Schelomo, these Suites are more ascetic and emotionally elusive. They draw inspiration from Bach in their multi-movement structure, which presents a sequence of contrasting slow and declamatory sections with faster and more rhythmically charged material.
Although Natalie Clein plays these pieces with same degree of fervour and commitment as on her outstanding Hyperion recording of Bloch’s works for cello and orchestra, each of the Suites effectively covers the same musical ground. There’s an obvious danger of monotony when the works are side by side, but Clein works hard to create as much variety as possible delivering the more expansive Second Suite with particular ardour.
Clein also makes a powerful case for Dallapiccola’s Ciaconna, Itermezzo e Adagio, an extended and often bleak work composed against the traumatic background of the destruction of Italy at the end of the Second World War, which utilises a much more radical harmonic language than Bloch. Undoubtedly the most approachable music in this fascinating programme is Ligeti’s Sonata, already a firmly established favourite amongst cellists. Clein’s performance is exemplary, bringing requisite warmth and tenderness to the opening ‘Dialogo’ and propelling the obsessive moto perpetuo semiquavers of the ‘Capriccio’ with tremendous energy and rhythmic drive.