Bloch Piano Quintets – Piers Lane & Goldner String Quartet

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Piano Quintet No.1
Piano Quintet No.2
Music for string quartet – Night; Paysages; Two Pieces

Goldner String Quartet [Dene Olding & Dimity Hall (violins), Irina Morozova (viola) & Julian Smiles (cello)]

Piers Lane (piano)

Recorded 26-28 February 2007 in The Menuhin School, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2007
Duration: 70 minutes



Tuning is an issue for this piece given that Bloch was something of a revolutionary in his application of quarter-tones, a rarity indeed in 1923. The Goldner Quartet responds fully to these inflections, bringing to the music an extra edginess.

The Second Piano Quintet is the summation of the composer’s late style, and dating some 34 years after his first work in the form it is the last chamber piece he wrote. Where the musical language of the first is direct and uncompromising, this is a piece where uncertainty abounds through the use of tritones, harmonically even more chromatic then the first quintet and emotionally mysterious. Its uncertainty can doubtless be attributed to Bloch’s illness at the time, as he was suffering from colonic cancer from which he would die in 1959 in Portland, Oregon.

Piers Lane is magnificent in his control of the difficult piano part, and with more contrapuntal activity than the first quintet the five parts are tightly integrated. Musically everything feels geared to the huge climax toward the end of the piece, the tautness of the string-players’ high register offering even more intensity. The first movement fully lives up to its Animato marking but proves elusive. The Andante moves in mysterious circles as its variations unfold and taking more than a little from the rich Romanticism of Alban Berg. Lane and the Goldner Quartet are fully under the surface of this deeply concentrated music, the former exercising wonderful restraint in the quieter music. The second quintet undoubtedly requires much listening to get to its core – but the rewards on doing so are many indeed.

In between the two quintets the Goldner musicians valuably offer six short pieces and include descriptive pieces of mood-painting, appropriately described in Alexander Knapp’s informative booklet note as “Impressionistic miniatures”. Certainly Night has some mysterious but not inconsequential meandering melodic lines, while the three brief movements comprising Paysages (Landscapes – ‘North’, ‘Alpestre’ and ‘Tongataboo’) offer reminders of Bloch’s Jewish heritage, moving between furtive and affirmative moods. The Two Pieces (1938/50) illustrate again Bloch’s way with chromaticism and make a convincing slow-fast pair.

Throughout this illuminating release the performances are top class, the chemistry between the five players clearly evident. Anyone with a keen interest in 20th-century chamber music should acquire this disc without delay.

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