Music and Vision homepage


<<  -- 2 --  Robert Anderson    Profound beauty


For the period 1920-25 Bloch was the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. He conducted the student orchestra there, and the First Concerto Grosso takes shape from this background. It would be unfair and inaccurate to suggest that Bloch's American works are all on a lower level than his European ones (he was back in Switzerland from 1930 to 1939); but their average is. It is understandable enough that after the First World War, Bloch, with other composers of stature, questioned the very nature of his inspiration, and turned away for a time from the Romantic Jewishness that had hitherto sustained him. The eupepsia and blanket blandness of America have much to do with Concerto Grosso No 1 for strings and obbligato keyboard. Its assumed neo-classicism has dated, so that the gestures of the initial Prelude and the Rustic Dance seem jejune and slightly embarrassing. Bloch could do much better than this, and does so in the gentle lamentation of the Dirge [listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:04]. There one hears echoes of the authentic Bloch. And the final fugue has the cut and thrust of the academic world at its most stimulating. Here the piano gets an entry of its own [listen track 4, 0:01-1:00].

After the second world conflagration, Bloch remained in San Francisco, and his final period involved a series of orchestral works less overtly Jewish than before, and a culminating cluster of chamber works, scaling down from a piano quintet, through four string quartets to solo works for cello, viola and violin. The Second Concerto Grosso dates from 1952, and Malcolm Sargent conducted the first performance the following year. It is more baroque than the first in that for obbligato piano it substitutes real interchange between ripieno strings and concertino quartet. The start again reminds one of the essential Bloch [listen -- track 5, 0:00-1:05]. The third movement Allegro has all the qualities of a modern Brandenburg, in which the instruments agree that drama is dissonance [listen -- track 7, 0:00-0:56]. Apart from some struggling in the Allegro frenetico of the String Quartet, the Atlas Camerata under Dalia Atlas gives a commendable account of music that is only rarely disappointing.

Copyright © 30 December 2001 Robert Anderson, London, UK







 << Music & Vision home      Recent reviews       Gillian Weir >>

Download a free realplayer 

For help listening to the sound extracts here,
please refer to our questions & answers page.