BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1. Concerto Grosso No. 2. Four Episodes for Chamber Orchestra. Concertino for Flute, Viola, Strings.

BLOCH: Concerto Grosso No. 1. Concerto Grosso No. 2. Four Episodes for Chamber Orchestra. Concertino for Flute, Viola, Strings. Agnieszka Duczmal conducting the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra; Barton Weber, piano; Michael Martin Kofler flute; Helmut Nicolai, viola. CPO 999 096-2 [DDD]; 71:51. Produced by Wilhelm Meister.

Here is a disc for listeners who wish Ernest Bloch didn’t always have to get so heated up about things. The Amadeus Chamber Orchestra plays the two wonderful concerto grossos with a metrical regularity and in emotional restraint that emphasizes their Baroque affinities at the expense of their romantic expressive cores. Compared with the robust vigor of the Hanson/Eastman performances (Mercury 432 718-2; see Fanfare 15: 274), these readings are positively anemic   Yet the Polish ensemble plays with such tight discipline and smooth refinement that their efforts cannot be simply dismissed out of hand. 

The other two pieces are extremely minor works of Bloch.  Four Episodes are a pleasantly varied, colorful, and motivically unified set of mood paintings, of the sort that Bloch frequently produced throughout his life.   This group, composed in 1926 during the fertile Cleveland years, is somewhat lighter in tone than his norm. They have been recorded several times before, but this rich, smoothly flowing performance makes the strongest case that I have yet heard.

The Concertino for flute, viola, and strings is a first recording, I believe. Comprising three short movements, it was composed in 1948 and is a very sweetly modal neo-Baroque diversion, the sort of music FM radio programmers seem to love. It’s not a bad piece, but we are talking about very minor Bloch with an unexpected polka at the end for laughs — but it makes me cringe. Again, the performance is neat and smooth.

There we have it, some substantial Bloch in unidiomatic interpretations, played very well, and some very insignificant Bloch in excellent performances. An additional irritant is the annotation by Andreas K. W. Meyer, which contains erroneous and misleading nonsense about Bloch’s stylistic evolution.