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In the second half of the programme, with the RPO in fine fettle, and a capacity audience ready to enjoy once more the sumptuous acoustic of Cadogan Hall and buzzing with curiosity about the Bloch symphony, Dalia Atlas delivered a performance of the work which was as exciting and dazzling as anyone might imagine. While Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is best known for his Sacred Service ('Avodat Hakodesh'), one of the first major Jewish liturgical choral orchestral works of the repertoire, and Symphonic Poem Schelemo for cello and orchestra, his oeuvre extends far beyond this. It encompasses both a substantial output of 'Jewish works' and also many different genres including opera, songs, string quartets, concertos and perhaps the least familiar, symphonies, the largest of which is the Israel Symphony (1912-6), a centrepiece of the 'Jewish Cycle'. That Bloch also completed a Trombone Symphony and Symphony in E flat in the early 1950s, and an Symphony in C sharp minor, composed between 1901-3 in Munich, is less well known, particularly in Britain, where the last documented performance of the early symphony was over fifty years ago!
The C sharp minor Symphony was one of the first of Bloch's works to attract critical attention. It is a work of youthful bombast, in four movements which originally had subtitles reflecting the autobiographical self discoveries of Berlioz or Mahler which evolve through struggle and self-doubt to faith and happiness. Bloch had studied in his native Switzerland as well as Belgium and Germany with, amongst other teachers, Eugene Ysaye; many of his student works are still unpublished. Yet, as the Bloch scholar Alex Knapp explained in his erudite programme notes, the Symphony in C sharp, composed under the guidance of Max von Schillings in Munich, was a stirring success when it eventually received its premiere in Geneva in 1908 conducted by Stavenhagen, and was published in 1925. Though there are some available recordings, a chance to hear this remarkable work was a rare and exciting treat. In this performance, one was constantly amazed at the incredible imagination of this young twenty one year old, whose language drew on the late Romantic influences of his time yet also looked strongly ahead to the first half of the 20th century.
Copyright © 1 July 2007
Malcolm Miller, London UK