Symphony in C sharp minor/Bloch
September 28, 2013
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is another composer who is nearly forgotten, yet at the age of 20 wrote this symphony, his first major effort that rivals some of who he listened to growing up such as Bruckner (1824-1896) and Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). What is the formula that makes one successful and another an unsung composer? I couldn’t begin to count the number of recordings of Rachmaninoff’s and Mahler’s 1st symphonies which were both written as they in the same time frame as Bloch’s symphony in c sharp minor. Both of the former are successful works and included in the list of symphonies that could be performed by a symphony orchestra. The exception is the Israel symphony along with the tireless efforts of Dahlia Atlas who has championed all of his material. Is it perhaps marketing? Naxos is not guilty of the indifference and this is one of a few that have been recorded to CD. Since their beginning as HNH and then Marco Polo they always champion the underdog.
Bloch was born in Geneva, studied in Brussels under Eugene Yseye, composition with Iwan Knorr at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, immigrated to the United States in 1916 becoming a citizen in 1924. He eventually settled for the remainder of his life in Agate Beach Oregon. Because of his Jewish heritage he spent a good deal of his time writing material with a Jewish attitude of spirituality.
Written in 1900 the symphony begins so quietly that it’s a test of the dynamic range of your system. You might even want to turn your volume up for the first minute to hear the beginning which is a prelude of an evil forbidden place that you dare not enter. The movement seques into a ray of hope, a new theme with piercing high notes from the violin as the oboe and reeds carry the melody. It offers hope in this bleak world that started the symphony. The middle section changes in tempo to one of a slight urgency with horns offering majestic fanfares, sounding like Strauss. There is a part where the shimmering of the strings almost sound like a wordless choir in the background as a crescendo is reached. I had to go back and relisten to make sure it wasn’t a choir. It ends as it began on a quiet note with the timpani quite evident as the movement seems to fade away. The andante of the second movement begins with grumblings from the lower register with the horns and the trombones giving us the melody. It is a pretty melody that turns into a major key as the violins sing sweetly, the flutes fluttering like birds, a reminder of spring. Midway through the melody changes with the entire brass section playing the theme, a proud and majestic one which segues right back to our main melody. The vivace of the third movement begins with an extended somewhat complex brass fanfare as if it were an introduction before battle. There are parts which offer a hint of Dukas (sorcerer’s apprentice) and a short section of a soundtrack material, perhaps Korngold. One gets the impression that this part of the symphony has been studied closely by other composers. The final movement begins like it is going to be a fugue but returns to the major theme of the second movement with the brass playing a prominent part. It nicely ties together the work. Applause should be given to the fine brass section of the London Symphony.
Poems of the Sea is a three part 13+ minute tone poem which Bloch writes about the waves of the sea, a chanty, and at sea. The first section offers both the calmness as well as a folk melody. The section begins with a beautiful oboe solo which shows how peaceful the water can be. A chanty which reminds you of an Irish scene is played quite romantically by the strings. The final allegro is upbeat which conjures up images of an Irish jig with the ever dangerous sea in the background crashing against the rock. It reminds me of Sainton’s The Island which ended up as part of the soundtrack for the Gregory Peck version of “Moby Dick”
Hopefully this fine recording will encourage other major symphonies of the world to consider this one on their calendar for future performances. Hats off to the entire recording crew, the London Symphony, and Dalia Atlas for her fine conducting which shows how well she knows and loves these works.
Symphony in C sharp minor
1… Lento-Allegro agitato ma molto energico (22:03)
2… Andante molto moderato (11:11)
3… Vivace (10:18)
4… Allegro energico e molto marcato (11:02)
POEMS OF THE SEA (inspired by Walt Whitman)
5… Waves: Poco agitato (4:25)
6… Chanty: Andante misterioso (3:24)
Total Time is 68:26