Hagai Shaham (violin), Arnon Erez (piano)
‘Mix Bartók, Debussy and a dash of Lisztian bravado and you’ll get something very close to Bloch’s folksong-inflected, post-Romantic sound-world. Intoxicating performances guaranteed to set the pulse racing’ is what BBC Music Magazine said in its review of Hagai Shaham’s first disc of Bloch’s music for violin and piano on CDA67439. With this new release Hagai completes his survey and adds further delights such as Bloch’s suites for solo violin and music by Israeli-born composer, Paul Ben-Haïm.
The Baal Shem Suite, composed in 1923, is unmistakably Bloch, and is his best-known work for violin and piano. It was inspired by Israel Baal Shem Tov, the eighteenth-century founder of modern Hassidism, a mystical movement that arose in Eastern Europe as a reaction against traditional Jewish Orthodoxy, and which placed great emphasis upon song, dance and ecstasy as channels for direct communication with God. Bloch recreates the feeling of ecstatic religious chanting and spiritual intensity with his use of deeply emotional Jewish-tinged melodies, gutsy rhythms and powerful dynamics. Its second movement, Nigun, is in itself a self-standing solo work: a popular choice in standard violin repertoire and with Grade 8 students.
As the centrepiece of this disc we have Bloch’s suites for solo violin. Commissioned by—and dedicated to—Yehudi Menuhin, these short works are latter-day Bach Partitas and elaborate exercises in contrapuntal technique: full of passion, virtuosity and rhythmic dynamism.
Paul Ben-Haïm’s most popular work recorded here is the beautiful lullaby Berceuse sfaradite; the violin’s sensuous lilting melody is repeated in different registers and you can almost picture a balmy Eastern Mediterranean evening.
Hagai Shaham’s thrilling virtuosity and lustrous tone are perfectly suited to these vibrant and passionate works.