Sonata for violin and piano No. 1
Ernest Bloch is an infrequent visitor in concert halls these days, and when he is invited in it is almost invariably as the composer of Schelomo, Hebrew Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra. In fact, Bloch's fame rests more firmly on his "Jewish" music than on the many works he wrote having no ethnic foundation.
Dramatic urgency and rhapsodic eloquence were for Bloch elements that existed apart from Jewishness, however, as his First Violin Sonata proves irrefutably. The three-movement piece, written in 1921, evolves in an orbit of unrestrained turbulence and mystical calmness, and it is almost completely devoid - but just almost - of any Schelomo-flavored fervor. Of sheer musical fervor there is an abundance, beginning with a main theme that is almost barbaric in its elemental thrust. The two instruments fairly erupt in a near frenzy, and only after the violin takes off on a rhapsodic flight does the atmosphere become somewhat more restrained - but only somewhat, for the dramatic and propulsive vigors of the work remain its dominant force. For example, when the violin sings eloquently (with an admittedly Hebraic tone), the piano maintains a vital urgency. Dynamism is the propellant throughout the movement, but when the second movement eases the tension, it does so in a kind of hypnotic calm, as the violin enters mysteriously, veiled as if under a strange spell. A Debussyian aura is unmistakable, as is a Hebraic inflection, particularly in an extended, intensely vivid climactic section.
The second movement's quiet, intensely subjective ending is succeeded by music of almost unrelenting thrust. In the third movement, material from the first two movements is recalled as the rhapsodic nature of the music unfolds forcefully before a close of quiet resignation.
Orrin Howard served the Philharmonic for more than 20 years as Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute to the program book.