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Cat. No. CHAN 10288 X Price: £7 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10288 - Bloch: Sacred Service
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Available From: 07 February 2005
It is probably as a ‘Jewish composer’ that Bloch is best known. His Jewish works fall into two groups: first the ‘Jewish Cycle’ consisting of seven works (including Schelomo) written consecutively between 1911 nd 1918, and secondly the works composed at various intervals between 1923 and 1951, the total comprising about one-qurayter of his creativity. The Sacred Service (Avodath Hakodesh, sung on this recording in Ashkenazic Hebrew) belongs to the second category, and dates from 1930-33. The six note motif G-A-C-B-A-G, heard at the very outset, has been found in one of Bloch’s early manuscript books, with a comment ‘for a possible Jewish service’ written above it. However, it was not until 1927, while a Director of the San Francisco Conservatoire that he began to make specific plans with the help of Reubin Rinder, Cantor of Temple Emmanuel. As a result of his influence Bloch two years later received a handsome commission to write a Sabbath morning service based upon the text of the American Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship.

It is the text, taken from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Isiah, Proverbs, and post-Biblical writings, that provides the formal framework of this, the most expansive of Bloch’s Jewish works, set for Cantor (a baritone instead of the more usual tenor), mixed chorus and large orchestra. There are five parts, and each is divided into a number of sections, preceded or linked by orchestral preludes or interludes which represent congregational meditation. Although the overall musical style is akin, in many solo and orchestral passages, to the passionate nature and ‘oriental’ character of Bloch’s earlier ‘Jewish Cyckle’, as exemplified by the wide dynamic and emotional range, melismatic figures, exotic scales and modes and ostinati, there is nevertheless a clear Western conception in the simplicity and directness of much of the choral writing.

The first performance was broadcast over Radio Turin on January 12th 1934.

When this recording was originally issued on LP I compared it with all previous versions of the work… finding it to be superior with regard to both performance and sound… I remain enthusiastic about this Chandos release, especially in its CD re-issue.

Don’t expect passionate, rhapsodic outpourings along the lines of ‘Schelomo’. Majoring on austerity and restraint, Bloch’s Sacred Service (Avodath Hokodeth) post-dates his discovery of a bracing neo-classicism, best exemplified by the Concert grosso No. 1 and Piano Quintet No. 1, minor masterpieces we ought to hear more often. Apart from the language of its ritual, the Sacred Service often sounds like Vaughan Williams. The music is four-square and at times obsessively contrapuntal, yet the scoring has a deftness and luminosity that may come as a surprise.

Chandos have reissued on compact disc its memorable 1978 recording with the Zemel Choir and London Symphony Orchestra, under Geoffrey Simon, in which Louis Berkman sings the cantors part with mellifluous sensitivity.
Jewish Chronicle


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