LITSCHAUER & OTTERLOO Bloch: Israel Symphony, Schelomo (1951/52) - PASC199

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LITSCHAUER & OTTERLOO Bloch: Israel Symphony, Schelomo (1951/52) - PASC199

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BLOCH Israel Symphony
BLOCH Schelomo (Rhapsodie Hébraïque)

Recorded 1952 & 1951
Total duration: 52:37

Vienna State Opera Orchestra & soloists
conducted by Franz Litschauer
Tibor de Machula,
The Residency-Orchestra (The Hague)
conducted by Willem van Otterloo

This set contains the following albums:

The excellent première recording of Bloch's Israel Symphony

A rarely-heard work in a truly fine performance, fully remastered

"The major works of Bloch's "Jewish Cycle" are now complete on records; their fire and passion, stemming more from a deep humanity felt with a Jewish intensity than from anything specifically Hebraic, are available to all for the trouble of listening. They are among the peaks of twentieth-century music; a brief note such as the present can do no more than record that opinion together with an indication that they are worthily represented by the present recording..."
- from review in The Gramophone, October 1952


    Of Bloch's major works, the Israel Symphony is one which has received perhaps the least attention. This recording, which we believe was probably made in early 1952 (the composer was presented with a disc of the recording in April of that year), was the first of four recordings of the work. Writing here in France it's been a frustrating experience trying to hear any other recordings of the work - unavailable to buy here in any download format (apparently the same is true of the UK), the only version listed on our Amazon site is an ASV import CD which is currently out of stock.

    When I finally did track down a copy of the ASV disc its performance seemed to come a poor second to this original recording - notably reviews tend to trumpet the merits of the Viola Concerto it's coupled with and play down the Israel Symphony. Yet in the symphony's 1952 outing it's a different matter altogether, and most certainly a recording worth reviving. The second movement, for example, marked Allegro agitato, has an agitated passion completely lacking in the most recent recording, and overall the work is one I'll enjoy getting to know better.

    The work is one of the centrepieces of Bloch's major Jewish period, between about 1912 and 1936, and the composer wrote about the Jewish influence on his music in text which appeared on the original LP sleeve:

    "It is not my purpose, nor my desire, to attempt a 'reconstruction' of Jewish music, or to base my works on melodies more or less authentic. I am not an archaeologist. I hold it of first importance to write good, genuine music, my music. It is the Jewish soul that interests me, the complex glowing agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible; the freshness and naivete of the Patriarchs; the violence that is evident in the prophetic books; the Jew's savage love of justice; the despair of the Preacher in Jerusalem; the sorrow and immensity of the Book of Job; the sensuality of the Song of Songs. All this is in us; all this is in me, and it is the better part of me. It is all that I endeavour to hear in myself and to transcribe in my music: the venerable emotion of the race that slumbers way down in our souls."

    As for the recording - it's reasonably well made for its day, and has transferred and restored well, though some of the peaks exhibit slight top-end distortion and the frequency range at the very top could have been a little greater. As early 1950s recordings go it probably sits somewhere in the middle, quality-wise - things seemed to pick up technically in the two or three years immediately after this was made, and I would be less forgiving of a 1954 or 1955 recording.

    Schelomo, Bloch's rhapsody for cello and orchestra dates from the same period as the Israel Symphony, both in terms of composition (~1916) and in recording. This Philips recording was made perhaps 3 or 4 months before the symphony and is perhaps sonically the more successful of the two. The cello is wonderfully captured along with the orchestra, though again the frequency range tops out somewhere between about 10k and 12k, with little above this, and thus there is perhaps a lack of 'air' that might be heard in a later recording with greater frequency extension.

    Andrew Rose

    • Bloch - Israel Symphony
      Vienna State Opera Orchestra
      conducted by Franz Litschauer
      Friedl Helsing, Helga Augsten
      , sopranos
      Elfriede Hofstatter, Lore Dorpinghaus, altos
      Leo Heppe, bass
      Recorded in 1952, issued in the US as as Vanguard 12" LP: VRS-423
      This transfer from UK issue, Nixa VLP.423

    • Bloch - Schelomo (Rhapsodie Hébraïque)
      Tibor de Machula, cello
      The Residency-Orchestra (The Hague)
      conducted by Willem van Otterloo
      Recorded 11th October, 1951
      This transfer from Philips 10" LP: A00138R

    Transfers and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, November 2009
    Cover artwork based on a photograph of Ernest Bloch

    Total duration: 52:37