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Bloch: From Jewish Life, Schelomo; Bruch, Etc / Aasgaard, Schwarz, Et Al


Release Date: 05/27/2008 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2149   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ernest BlochMax BruchGerard SchwarzDavid Diamond
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



FROM JEWISH LIFE Jonathan Aasgaard (vc); Gerard Schwarz, cond; Royal Liverpool PO AVIE 2149 (57:45)


BLOCH Schelomo. From Jewish Life: Prayer, (arr. Aasgaard). DIAMOND Kaddish. SCHWARZ In Memoriam. BRUCH Kol Nidre

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Relatively short playing time and a largely sob-fest program may be a hard sell. Surely not all in Jewish music is penance and tears. The disc might easily have been filled out with something a bit more upbeat. The word Jewish is italicized because I believe a distinction needs to be drawn between that which is authentic—let’s call it kosher—and that which is artificial—let’s call it kosher style. This is an argument I engaged in with Walter Simmons in a 2005 Critics’ Corner exchange. There is no way we can know what the music of King Solomon’s day sounded like, but it’s a sure bet it didn’t sound anything like Bloch’s Schelomo , which, nonetheless, is a magnificent, sweeping musical documentary of the great Biblical figure and his times. As I opined in my CC entry, “ Schelomo is Bloch’s Scheherazade . It brought him international acclaim and, to a large extent, typecast him in the minds of the masses.” Bloch himself was careful to distinguish between what was certifiably kosher and what was kosher style, writing, “I do not propose or desire to attempt a reconstruction of the music of the Jews . . . or to base my work on melodies more or less authentic.” You can read the remainder of the quote in the aforementioned CC submission.


With nearly three-dozen current listings, Schelomo remains, since it was written in 1916, Bloch’s most popular work; though, surprisingly, cellists have tended to steer clear of it in recent years, the last new recording I’m aware of being Truls Mørk’s, reviewed in 28:6. Technically and interpretively, Mørk and Aasgaard are well matched; were a recommendation to be based solely on the respective cellists’ contributions, I’d be hard-pressed to make a choice. But this is one of those works in which the orchestra’s role is as important as that of the soloist’s. The piece is not a concerto with a fanciful name, like Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole . Bloch’s subtitle, “Hebraic Rhapsody,” was well chosen, for the cello does indeed engage in a rhapsodic, cantorial dialogue with the orchestra. Taking this into account, it has to be said that Gerard Schwarz and the Liverpool Philharmonic come across in brilliant, flaming colors compared to the softer grained pastels and gray tones of Paavo Järvi and the ORTF Philharmonic on Virgin. This was something I noted in comparing Mørk’s reading to the high voltage classic performance by Zara Nelsova; but it didn’t occur to me at the time the extent to which my perception of Mørk’s recording was influenced by the orchestra. Composed in 1924, Bloch’s three-movement suite From Jewish Life was originally scored for cello and piano. Its first movement, “Prayer,” is heard here in an arrangement by Jonathan Aasgaard for cello and strings. Like Schelomo , it is a kosher-style pastrami sandwich on rye.


David Diamond, who died in 2005, wrote his Kaddish for cello and orchestra for Yo-Yo Ma at the suggestion of Gerard Schwarz. It, too, is an artificial (I do not use the word pejoratively) construct of 20th-century musical techniques and gestures designed to suggest the cantorial cantilation heard in synagogue services. At 11 minutes plus, Diamond’s meditative take on the Kaddish dwells a bit too long on the morose, forgetting that the prayer is essentially one of glorification.


Frankly, there is not much to differentiate Gerard Schwarz’s In Memoriam for cello and string orchestra from Diamond’s Kaddish . If you didn’t notice the track number change on your CD player, you could be excused for thinking you were still in the same piece. Written in 2005 as a memorial tribute to the late Russian-born cellist David Tonkonogul, a former member of the Seattle Symphony and cello teacher to Schwarz’s son Julian who premiered it, In Memoriam is a bit more melodic, tonally centered, and rhapsodic than Diamond’s work, and shorter by about two-and-a-half minutes, but its dirge-like dreariness offers no contrast to the oppressive darkness of the Kaddish.


Amusing, if not ironic, is the fact that the Kol Nidre for cello and orchestra by Max Bruch, the only non-Jewish composer on the disc, is the only work based on a melody that is actually intoned by cantors worldwide at the Yom Kippur Eve service. Bruch himself had this to say about the piece: “I became acquainted with Kol Nidre and a few other songs (among others, Arabian Camel ) in Berlin through the Lichtenstein family, who befriended me. Even though I am a Protestant, as an artist I deeply felt the outstanding beauty of these melodies and therefore I gladly spread them through my arrangement.”


All of the works on the program are masterfully played by cellist Jonathan Aasgaard; and for an incandescent performance and recording of Schelomo in particular, the CD is recommended. As for the rest, taking it all in at once is a bit of a downer.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Schelomo by Ernest Bloch
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard (Cello)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915-1916; USA 
Length: 21 Minutes 51 Secs. 
2. Kol Nidrei for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 47 by Max Bruch
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard (Cello)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881; Liverpool, England 
Length: 11 Minutes 17 Secs. 
3. In Memoriam by Gerard Schwarz
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard (Cello)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 39 Secs. 
4. From Jewish Life: no 1, Prayer by Ernest Bloch
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard (Cello)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Jonathan Aasgaard. 
5. Kaddish by David Diamond
Performer:  Jonathan Aasgaard (Cello)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987-1988; USA 
Length: 11 Minutes 19 Secs. 

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