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The Chamber Music with Viola
Suite Hebraique
Concertino for flute, viola and piano
Suite for viola
Suite for viola and piano

Paul Cortese (viola) Michel Wagemans (piano) Maarika Jarvi (flute)
 ASV CDDCA 1094 [70.28 ]

Bloch is one of those composers one only encounters occasionally, but each time the effect is the same: he ought to be better known. This ASV recording of chamber music for Bloch's preferred solo instrument, the viola, is therefore an important contribution to the cause. And since both the performances and the recordings are first class, it is a most worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

There are two really major works and others of less substance but still of interest. The biggest piece, and one of Bloch's finest achievements, is the Suite for Viola and Piano, which dates from 1918-19. As Duncan Reid perceptively remarks in his accompanying essay, although this work pre-dates all the others on the disc by more than thirty years, 'it still sounds more modern than anything bar the late, unfinished solo piece'. There are four movements to the duo Suite, and the whole is some thirty minutes in duration. It is a tribute to the concentration of Cortese's playing, and to his partnership with Wagemans, that the work sounds so eloquent and strong, big in ideas and in concept. If the title -Suite - encourages the expectation that this will be a slight collection of short movements, nothing could be further from the truth.

Here and elsewhere, the ASV recording is exemplary, offering a generously warm acoustic and a detailed perspective which is just right for chamber music. Therefore Cortese's full, rounded tone is heard to advantage, and the balance he achieves with his accompanist contributes much to the overall effectiveness of the performances.

Of the other items collected here, the Suite Hebraique of 1951 is particularly fine, both as music and as performance. In many ways this piece makes an ideal introduction to this under-rated composer. It is direct, eloquent and strong, with a fund of invention which marks this music, and therefore this disc too, as particularly compelling.

Terry Barfoot

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