June 2000

Music by Ernest Bloch
Classic Records DAD 1030
Released: 1999

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on 24/96 DVD]Classic Records is one of the first recording labels to have released 24/96 recordings (high-resolution, 24 bit/96 kHz DVDs) and continues to champion this format whose days may be numbered with the introduction of SACD and DVD-Audio. However, while the high cost of SACD players is still prohibitive and DVD-Audio has yet to receive its official release, 24/96 DVDs offer high-quality, two-channel playback that is compatible with all current DVD players. One of Classic’s latest offerings, Music By Ernest Bloch, who lived from 1880 to 1959, may not be familiar to many (myself included), but this 24/96 DVD featuring the LSO and pianist Micah Yui offers a varied sampling of this modern composer’s works.

The first selection, Concerto Symphonique for piano and orchestra, is a forceful piece with horns and timpani providing a bombastic fanfare. The first movement, the dirge-like Pesante, flows into the equally chaotic and powerful Allegro vivace. The final movement, Allegro deciso, begins with a flourish and continues the often-torrid pace established by the first two movements and culminates in the reiteration of the fanfare by the orchestra, which is also echoed by the piano. Although written as a concerto for piano and orchestra, this piece doesn't have the piano play a very prominent role. Perhaps the only time when Yui’s powerful playing emerges from the background is during the cadenza near the close of the first movement.

The Scherzo Fantasque for piano and orchestra is similar in tone to the Concerto Symphonique, but offers more opportunity for the pianist to showcase her talents. Although brief, this piece is attacked with gusto and feeling by Yui. Unlike the Concerto Symphonique, where the piano competes with several layers of the orchestra’s sound, the Scherzo Fantasque allows for more interpretation, with the piano generally competing with only a single section of the orchestra or a solo instrument.

The Concerto Grosso No. 2 for strings is the final selection on this disc and will appeal to purists who eschew the typically disorderly sound of modern symphonic music. A lyrical blend of individual and massed strings, the first movement is sweet and serene. The mournful quartet of violins, viola, and cello fuses effortlessly with the string sections of the LSO. The remaining three movements are less dulcet, yet I found them to be satisfying on a visceral level.

I consider orchestral recordings to be the most difficult type to reproduce. I prefer the solo instruments to be fairly close-miked so that I can connect with the soloists, but I also like a good sense of the orchestra and some ambience. Unfortunately, the imaging of the piano on this recording is slightly diffuse and the orchestra seems distant. This is still a good recording and better than most, but it is not up to the standard of the best current audiophile recordings. While Classic’s Music by Ernest Bloch does not quite live up to the full potential of the 24/96 DVD format, there is a little something here for everyone -- the audiophile, purist, and modern music lover alike.