January 2013 Archives

Piano Music of Ernest Bloch

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 Ernest Bloch

      Ernest Bloch

Visions and Prophecies   COMP DISC 786.2 BLOCH

 Margaret Fingerhut performs these selections from Bloch's solo piano oeuvre to perfection; an endeavor which is complemented by equally flawless recorded sound.   Circus Pieces, and Poems of the Sea, among other works, are not present, but this disc still represents a generous selection of the composer's output in this idiom.

Ernest Bloch's (1890 - 1959) accomplishments are many and varied.   His output as a composer incorporates several of the 20th Century's hodgepodge of styles and influences, including Serialism, quarter tone and folk-derived techniques and he exhibited mastery in each.  Perhaps his best known works, such as Baal Shem and Shelomo reflect Jewish themes.  He was also an accomplished teacher whose students included George Antheil and Roger Sessions.

Born in Switzerland, Bloch established himself as an educator in America in 1916 after the touring dance company, for whom he was conductor, folded and stranded its members in Ohio.  He returned to Switzerland in 1930 but, found himself back in the U.S., like many of his contemporaries, following Hitler's rise to power.

Visions and Prophecies leads off the disc.  Tonal in composition and contemplative in nature, the piece incorporates some truly gorgeous dissonances and Fingerhut's signature refinement of touch.  The latter benefits from the recording's marvelous engineering, which captures all the nuances the pianist deploys.

Five Sketches in Sepia  follows and the emotional tone shifts to somber, with the exception of the third piece, "Fireflies", which is livelier, though by no means manic.

At almost 23 minutes, the next work Piano Sonata, in three movements, is the longest work on the CD Here, the harmonic palette is reminiscent of Debussy, punctuated by jagged dissonances.   This is music possessed of a strong narrative sense and if the composer had programmatic intentions for the sonata, they reflect anxious and agitated states of mind.  

As befits their collective title, the ten short pieces that comprise Enfantines, are gentle, inviting, often whimsical works, without a hint of emotional turmoil that informs Piano Sonata.

In the Night: A Love Poem for Piano is appropriately nocturnal (marked lento assai) and seemingly flirts with remorse for much of its length before its shift to a major key at about the 3:40 mark.  The remaining minute or so evokes a more equivocal mental state.  Curiously, the piece closes with about 30 seconds of silence before the disc's final selection

The disc concludes with Nirvana:  Poem for Piano , an extremely hushed composition with  only  a smattering  of dynamic variation.  Apparently, the composers conception of the titular spiritual state is one devoid of affect.  Music for meditation?

This recording represents a happy confluence of Bloch's uniformly intriguing piano pieces, formidable artistry on the part of Margaret Fingerhut and terrific sonics courtesy of Chandos' engineers.   If your attention is focused while you listen you will be thoroughly engaged.

 

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