Violin masterworks

  • by Jason Victor Serinus
  • Tuesday May 11, 2010
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Bernstein, Barber, Bloch: Works for Violin and Orchestra; Vadim Gluzman (BIS)

In a wonderful pairing that speaks to Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman's spiritual roots, his latest recording of 20th-century music offers vital works by three acknowledged masters: bisexual Jewish-American Leonard Bernstein, gay American Samuel Barber, and Swiss-born Jewish-American Ernest Bloch. Although the composers' concerns run the gamut, they are united in their lyrical gift for heart-tugging melody.

The five expressions of love that comprise Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's 'Symposium' (1954) cast an oft-thrilling, sidewise glance at Greece via Broadway. They also reflect the unstoppable love and exuberance for human beings that led Bernstein to champion the civil rights of the oppressed, and concertize at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bloch's Baal Shem – Three Pictures of Chassidic Life (1923), named after an 18th-century rabbi who believed in a direct link to God through singing, dancing and ecstasy, is the product of the composer's lifelong quest for inner truth and cultural authenticity.

Finally, the sometimes contemplative, ultimately rousing music of Barber's marvelous Violin Concerto (1939) expresses beauty without thematic limitations. Who can resist the opening theme, whose soaring, heartfelt longing quickly helped establish Barber as a major presence? On an otherwise excellent recording that gives the violin too much prominence, Gluzman and his "ex-Leopold Auer Stradivarius" join John Neschling and the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra to infuse these performances with soaring beauty.