Geneva-born Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, a soulful meditation with huge sky-reaching climaxes (no Swiss neutrality here!), can often emerge as seeming like pre-film-music (it dates from 1916), a Technicolor extravagance anticipating Cecil B. DeMille’s epics. It can seem a verbose overstatement. Not on this occasion though. Natalie Clein gives an unexaggerated performance pursuing the music’s linearity and playing from the heart while conjuring some appropriate dark tone from her instrument. Aided by some beguiling woodwind playing (in fact the whole of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra plays with its tail up) and a strong sense of going somewhere and doing so with concert-hall spontaneity, the music takes wing to both beguile and thrill. It’s one of the most persuasive performances of this work that I have heard.
Bloch described Voice in the Wilderness (1936) as a ‘symphonic poem with cello obbligato’. Sometimes seeming like a distilled version of Schelomo, Voice in the Wilderness soon finds its own ground, music that imagines in more mysterious expression and bronzer colours but with no less largesse in terms of emotion and scenery. Once again these performers—Ilan Volkov is very sympathetic to the music and to his soloist—convince that this is a score to engage with and return to.
From Jewish Life is also by Bloch but is not heard here as he wrote it. The late Christopher Palmer (1946-95) arranged it for strings and harp as an accompaniment to the cello. The three short movements (totalling 8'25") are alive with feeling and poignancy in these very sensitive renditions.
To close the disc is Max Bruch’s ‘Adagio on Hebrew melodies’, Kol Nidrei. Once again, the attentiveness and the eloquence of the music-making win the listener over. Throughout, the recording is as vivid as the music; but, like the interpretations, the sound remains in good balance and natural perspective as a perfect complement to the musicians’ ambitions. An outstanding release.