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Absorption of Influences

A revival of Bloch's early C sharp minor symphony,


The early and seldom performed Symphony in C sharp minor by Ernest Bloch formed a fascinating and stirring climax to a superb concert on 26 June 2007 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Dalia Atlas, that also featured the outstanding violinist Hagai Shaham as soloist in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. The revival of Bloch's symphony, given to an enthusiastic audience in London's Cadogan Hall as part of the RPO's 60th Anniversary Season, was the brainchild of the energetic advocate and champion of Bloch's lesser known works, the Israeli conductor Dalia Atlas, whose recordings, for ASV and Naxos, have brought to light many unfamiliar masterpieces.

Dalia Atlas has made a distinguished international career as a conductor of a wide repertoire and her inspirited approach was evident from the start in Schubert's Rosamunde Overture, impelled with just the right tempi, eliciting rich warm string sonorities and chirpy woodwind articulation that blossomed in the delicate exchanges, framed by strident orchestral tuttis.

In the Mendelssohn concerto, composed just two years before Schubert's overture was 'discovered' in Vienna in 1847 by Sullivan (an interesting synchronicity), Shaham displayed easeful virtuosity and characterful artistry, his seriousness of purpose and energy leading to exciting playing all round. With his breathtaking speeds it was fortunate that there was excellent communication between conductor and soloist at the crucial structural junctures such as the end of the cadenza. In the first movement Shaham infused both the main themes and the transitions with expressive intensity and urgency. His tone glowed meltingly in the first movement, especially the high flying second subject that seems to vanish into the air, and he projected the helterskelter passagework with crystalline lucidly. Shaham above all succeeded in sustaining interest by shading each phrase and gesture through supple modulations of colour and intensity, as in the cadenza, which dissolved beautifully into the orchestral fabric. There was a more relaxed mood for the eloquent slow movement, which showed Shaham's noble lyricism to great effect, with its chamber music like dialogues with the orchestra, notably cellos, while the transition to the finale was imbued with almost cantorial fervour. The witty scampering finale theme had a true Mendelssohnian delicacy. Here his nonchalant wit and dazzling dexterity held the audience in rapt attention, the RPO just about keeping up with the scherzoesque speed of his violinistic tour de force; it was a great finish.

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Copyright © 1 July 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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