ERNEST BLOCH: From Jewish Life – Cello Works = Nigun; Méditation Hébraïque; From Jewish Life; Voice In The Wilderness; Visions And Prophecies; Suite No. 3 for solo cello – Michal Kaňka (cello) / Miguel Borges Coelho (piano) – Praga multichannel SACD DSD250271, 73:08 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) was a Swiss-American composer now remembered especially for his hebraic rhapsody Schelomo – Rhapsodie Hébraïque written for cello and orchestra during 1916. One of my desert island recordings is Feuermann’s coruscating reading, superbly transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn on a Pristine release, and there is also a fine recording, available as a high definition transfer from a commercial reel-to-reel release by HDTT with Leonard Rose and Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
Bloch was inspired by his Jewish heritage to write several more pieces in this vein, the earliest of which on this fine new release from Praga Digitals was part of Baal Shem, a suite of three pieces written in 1923 for violin and piano, the middle of which, Nigun, was transcribed for cello in 1946 by the American cellist Joseph Schuster. Michal Kaňka plays this plaintive song without words with deep rich tone and sufficient restraint to make the most powerful of impact.
From Jewish Life, written in 1924, is another triptych this time written for cello and piano, and the moving Prayer and Supplication are again impressive with powerful playing from Kaňka and Coelho – the final movement is an energetic Jewish Song whose upbeat atmosphere is inspiring. The great Pablo Casals gave the première performance in New York of Méditation Hébraïque in 1925, another substantial miniature of depth.
Voice in the Wilderness (1935) is perhaps better known in its arrangement for cello and orchestra, but the version for cello and piano predates that and, according to Pierre Barbier’s excellent essay accompanying this release, was Bloch’s preferred version. The intimacy of the writing doesn’t get diminished by the lack of an orchestra; the six movements’ half-hour are a mix of quiet contemplation and meditation, and more energetic with forceful feelings of rage and resignation. Kaňka and Coelho bring out all of these moods with consummate success. Yet another version, a shortened arrangement including just the first five movements, appeared in 1936, written for piano solo, Miguel Borges Coehlo making an excellent case for it.
The 3rd Suite for solo cello is a late work dating from late 1956 and early 1957 though not performed until 1965 in the US and 1971 in Europe. The suites adhere to the structure of Bach’s but the content is pure late Bloch, somewhat dissonant and probing. The variety of tone Kaňka brings to the suite ensures the disc ends with music brimful of life.
All this is accompanied by sound quality of exemplary standard; sounding full and beautifully balanced in stereo, and in surround the aural picture becomes even more focused and life-like, giving a solid image in full-fat sound. This is another superb production from Pierre Barbier’s Praga Digitals and deserves very serious consideration.
— Peter Joelson