Finally, Another Bloch Symphony in C-sharp Minor

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Bloch’s epic Symphony in C-sharp minor emerged in 1900, when the composer was just 20. Conductor Dalia Atlas considers it to be the composer’s orchestral masterpiece, which is saying a lot, and she conducts it like she means it. The work is a big, romantic effusion requiring a typically large orchestra and lasting nearly an hour. Emotionally spontaneous, typically for this composer, and effectively structured in four big movements that employ cyclical form, you may detect similarities to Bruckner, Mahler, and Strauss. The opening of the scherzo especially seems to marry a recollection of Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony with the brass fanfares at the start of the finale of Mahler’s Second. It’s a blast.

The only serious competition for this work comes from Lev Markiz on BIS, also an excellent recording–a bit quicker in the long first movement, and slower in the Andante. There is certainly enough contrast between the two versions to make owning both more than worth your while. Atlas gets very good results from the London Symphony, with plenty of vigor in the quick music, and her comparatively flowing tempo in the Andante not only works well in isolation, it helps knit the overall structure together since one of the movement’s main themes reappears in the finale. Hearing it at this tempo makes it easier to recognize when it comes back later.

Poems of the Sea is a brief suite in three movements that admirably evokes its watery subject matter. Bloch was a true master of the orchestra, and his output is liberally sprinkled with short, effective works such as this that have been completely neglected (aside from the “Jewish” pieces, of course). Both performances are powerfully engineered by a team led by veteran James Mallinson working in Abbey Road, Studio 1. This is essential listening for collectors of great romantic symphonies.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony: Markiz (BIS)

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