Bloch – Music for Violin and Orchestra – Zina Schiff/José Serebrier

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto
Baal Shem (Three Pictures of Chassidic Life) for Violin Solo and Orchestra
Suite Hébraïque for Violin Solo and Orchestra

Zina Schiff (violin)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
José Serebrier

Recorded 28-30 March 2006 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.557757
Duration: 66 minutes



This excellent Naxos release collects the three works for violin and orchestra composed by Geneva-born Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), who studied the instrument in Brussels and spent time in France and Germany before settling in the United States in 1916.

Completed in 1938, indigenous American songs – heard by Bloch during a visit to New Mexico – inspired his Violin Concerto. Indeed, the opening fanfare sounds as if it belongs to the soundtrack of a 1950s’ Hollywood western. However, Zina Schiff points out in her excellent booklet note that the concerto is based on Jewish themes, and it is not long before Bloch’s music treads a different and far subtler musical terrain. The concerto teems with melodic, rhythmic and orchestral invention. The first movement, longer than the other two put together, provides the bulk of the musical argument, while the Andante is meditative and the finale is lyrical and affirmative.

Zina Schiff. Photograph: jamesarts.comZina Schiff’s performance, aided by José Serebrier’s conducting, is immensely detailed and perceptive. For comparative purposes, I listened to the 1939 recording by dedicatee Joseph Szigeti with Charles Munch (which is also available on Naxos) and the 1966 version by Hyman Bress with Jindřich Rohan (on Supraphon). The new performance outshines them both, Schiff and Serebrier finding greater depth in the reflective music (such as the exquisite passage for violin, woodwinds and horns from 18’26” in the first movement) and bringing more fire to the climaxes.

The other two works here also have Jewish influences. Baal Shem was written in 1923 while Bloch was Director of the Cleveland Institute. The first two movements are yearning and dramatic, while the third is songful and joyous. Suite Hébraïque is a late work, dating from 1951. Originally composed for viola, its three movements are more conservative than the earlier works, occasionally sounding like the work of a 19th-century composer such as Bruch. Once again, Schiff and Serebrier are convincing interpreters.

The recording is rich and clear with an attractive ambience, although slightly marred by the close placement of the solo violin. Nevertheless, Schiff’s is an outstanding performance and suggests that Bloch’s Violin Concerto should be considered alongside those of Bartók and Berg as one of the finest of the 1930s. Highly recommended.

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