Although it is not a strictly programmatic work per se, Bloch’s 1936 Visions and Prophecies—a five-movement piece for solo piano—is an emotional, spiritual, and dramatic evocation of sentiments, incidents, proclamations, or characters in the Hebrew Bible. For the pianist on this recording, David Holzman, the movements representing biblical visions are clearly distinguishable from those reflecting prophecies. And in Bloch’s own interpretation of the work, he identifies or intuits—albeit admittedly tentatively (“to some extent”)—specific biblical personalities:
After the portentious introduction (the modal scale clearly gives the work a “Jewish color”), the wailing melody evokes Jeremiah. The motionless twinkle of the second movement hints at the vision of Jacob’s ladder. The harsh violence of the third summons up Micah reviling the sins of the tribes of Israel. The beauty and tranquility of the fourth movement prepares the way for the final movement, a complex war among all the conflicting motives, and ends with the eternity of the universe, unswayed by the passions and hatred which embroiled the world.
The first movement is marked Moderato; the second, Poco lento; the third is also Moderato; the indication of the fourth movement is Adagio, piacevole; and the final movement is Poco agitato.
The writing throughout the piece is characterized by an interplay between pianistically idiomatic tone clusters (prominent from the outset in the first movement) and expositions of continuously unfolding melody—especially in the second and fourth movements. Elsewhere, there are shorter, biting melodic and rhythmic motives, as in the third movement, where a mood of controlled fury is portrayed. The fourth movement is generally reflective and meditative in spirit—almost dreamlike, and lean in its clarity. All these elements are juxtaposed against one another in the finale, as the agitation ebbs and flows and as the movement builds to a penultimate climax that fades to a calm, resolute conclusion.
Performers: David Holzman, Piano
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