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Although Ernest Bloch’s exploration of the ‘Jewish Soul’ focused on a cycle of seven works written between 1911 and 1916, he returned to Jewish themes throughout his life. Baal Shem explores Eastern European Hasidic traditions in all their expressive intensity in this version for viola and orchestra transcribed by soloist Hong-Mei Xiao. Bloch’s 1918 Coolidge Prize-winning Suite for Viola and Orchestra remains one of the twentieth century’s enduringly important works for the instrument, whilst the Suite hébraïque, written in his last decade, absorbs Jewish elements ever more fluently and subtly.
Baal Shem is a staple of the violin repertoire but in a valuable move soloist Hong-Mei Xiao has transcribed it for viola. The Suite hébraïque is often coupled with Bloch’s First and Second Viola Sonatas or with orchestral works such as America or the Epic Rhapsody. The prize-winning Suite generally gets coupled with pieces by Bloch like Schelomo, or with Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata, which Bloch pipped at the post for the prize.
Ernest Bloch: Baal Shem (arr. Hong-Mei Xiao for viola and orchestra)
No. 1. Vidui (Contrition)
No. 2. Nigun (Improvisation)
No. 3. Simchas Torah (Rejoicing in the Holy Scriptures)
Ernest Bloch: Suite for Viola and Orchestra
I. Lento - Allegro - Moderato
II. Allegro ironico
IV. Molto vivo
Ernest Bloch: Suite hebraique*
II. Processional: Andante con moto
III. Affirmation: Maestoso
13th June 2013
“Xiao, sweet-toned and intense, but avoiding overt histrionics, is persuasive in both. There's intricate, detailed playing, too from the Budapest Symphony under Mariusz Smolij.”