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Remembrance - Schoenberg, Bernstein, Bloch, Zeisl / John Neschling, Et Al

Release Date: 06/30/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1650   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Arnold SchoenbergLeonard BernsteinErnest BlochEric Zeisl
Conductor:  John Neschling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

REMEMBRANCE John Neschling, cond; Stephen Bronk (spkr); 1 Sharon Bezaly (fl); 2 Vadim Gluzman (vn); 3 Gabriella Pace (sop); 4 Luisa Francesconi (mez); 4 Rodrigo Esteves (bar); 4 São Paolo SO & Ch 1,4 Read more class="ARIAL12"> BIS 1650 (63:04 Text and Translation)

SCHOENBERG Kol nidre. 1 BERNSTEIN Halil. 2 BLOCH Baal shem. 3 ZEISL Requiem ebraico 4

Schoenberg and Bernstein are not usually thought of as compositional bedfellows, but they had several things in common: a strong Jewish spirit appears intermittently in their œuvres , and some of their loveliest music is among the least known. Both thoughts come into play here. Kol nidre is the Jewish prayer of atonement for Yom Kippur; Schoenberg set it in 1938 for a Los Angeles synagogue. A tonal work (in G Minor) with lush, golden post-Romantic scoring in the Korngold-Zemlinsky mold, it contains some of Schoenberg’s most beautiful music. Following an extended orchestral introduction, the “rabbi-narrator”—speaking in English, with no specified pitches—explains the prayer, as the orchestra illustrates it; then the chorus joins in responses. Kol nidre has been recorded by the usual suspects: Boulez, Gielen, and Craft. All are excellent, but none can match the sheer beauty of this performance and its recorded sound. The orchestra is superb, and Sala São Paolo has a warm, thrilling ambience reminiscent of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which BIS has captured gloriously. Even if you fear the name Schoenberg, you must hear—and wallow in—this audiophile triumph.

Bernstein’s Halil , (1981) is a “Nocturne for flute with piccolo, alto flute, percussion, harp, and strings.” A rhapsodic work, it alternates quiet, calm passages with excited outbursts reminiscent of his theater works; the solo flute plays almost continuously. Composed as a tribute to a young Israeli flutist killed in the 1973 war, it also serves as a virtuoso showpiece for his instrument. Halil has been recorded by the masters: Rampal, Stoltzman, and Dwyer; Bezaly’s performance is in that class, and BIS shows off the colors of her 24-carat flute.

Bloch’s Baal shem (Three Pictures of Hasidic Life) was written for violin and piano and later orchestrated. It has become one of his more popular pieces, primarily as a vehicle for the violinist. Which is surprising, as it is a serious, mostly solemn work with little sense of the virtuosic. Most recordings (including Szigeti, Stern, and Wicks) have been of the piano original; among famous violinists, the only current recording of the orchestral version is by Joshua Bell. Gluzman plays the “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivarius, but the dark music does not allow for much tonal brilliance. Composed, like Schelomo , in Bloch’s “Jewish” style, the three-movement Baal shem is less dramatic and has more atmosphere than coherent structure.

The piece by Eric Zeisl (1905–1959) has some effective and moving passages, including an upbeat final chorus, but it is rather shapeless. The problem may lie in its joint cross-purposes: commissioned as a setting of the 92nd Psalm for use in the synagogue, it was composed at the end of World War II, when the composer learned of the death of his father. Thus the celebration of and praise to God took on the solemn character of a Requiem.

Schoenberg and Bernstein are the winners here—the conductor is a grandnephew of the former and studied with the latter. It should come as no surprise that a city of 20 million has a fine symphony orchestra, but I don’t remember encountering it since the days of Eleazar de Carvalho. The Sala São Paolo opened in 1999; judging from this disc, it is a spectacular success. Highly recommended!

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Kol nidre, Op. 39 by Arnold Schoenberg
Conductor:  John Neschling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; USA 
Halil by Leonard Bernstein
Conductor:  John Neschling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; USA 
Baal shem by Ernest Bloch
Conductor:  John Neschling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; USA 
Requiem ebraico by Eric Zeisl
Conductor:  John Neschling
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1945; USA 

Sound Samples

Kol Nidre, Op. 39
Baal Shem (version for violin and orchestra): No. 1. Vidui (Contrition)
Baal Shem (version for violin and orchestra): No. 2. Nigun (Improvisation)
Baal Shem (version for violin and orchestra): No. 3. Simchat torah (Rejoicing)
Requiem ebraico (Psalm 92)

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