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Jewish Tone Poems
Aaron AVSHALOMOV (1894-1964)
Four Biblical Tableauxa (1928) [12'05]
Sheila SILVER (b. 1946)
Shirat Sarab (1985) [22'32]
Jan MEYEROWITZ (1915-1998)
Symphony, 'Midrash Esther'c (1954) [28'26]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestraac/Gerard Schwarza, Yoel Levic;
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarzb.
Rec. Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, May 1999a, November 2000c, Banaroya Hallb, Seattle, WA, May 1999. DDD


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A fascinating disc. Naxos is once more to be congratulated for its championing of the fringes of the repertoire.

The present release forms part of its Milken Archive series (American Jewish Music). All three works take their inspiration from the Bible; Old Testament, of course. Performances are consistently excellent, as is documentation and presentation.

Aaron Avshalomov, Siberian by birth, spent a significant period in China, and there is indeed a clear oriental influence here. The second tableau, 'Rebecca by the well', is bathed in Ravelian chinoiserie. Avshalomov writes with a confident hand, and one that is warmly devotional, too. The piece here is in four movements, each with a heading (Queen Esther's Prayer; Rebecca by the well; Ruth and Naomi; Processional). The third movement in particular is inviting, given an affectionate performance here. There is also a lovely, glowing conclusion to this tableau.

Sheila Silver, a pupil of Ligeti and Harold Shapiro, takes the listener into more progressive territory - unsurprisingly perhaps - yet her Jewish origins are explicit. She takes material she herself has experienced. An example includes eavesdropping on a group of men singing farewell to the Sabbath provided the impetus for the extended, somewhat slithery melody of the first movement. The work is a symphony for strings with the leader acting as occasional soloist - with great success in the present instance. Silver's use of expressive, yearning intervals is particularly impressive. Her imagination is similarly striking, and the still ending reverberates long in the memory. What else of hers is waiting to be discovered, I wonder?

Finally, Jan Meyerowitz's Symphony, 'Midrash Esther'. Meyerowitz had an impressive run of teachers (Zemlinsky, Respighi and Casella), and William Steinberg was a staunch advocate of his music. Not difficult to see why Steinberg was such a fan on the basis of this work. Midrash Esther apparently means 'Commentary on the Book of Esther'. The story of Esther is centred on a threatened genocide of the Jews by Haman and Esther's key role in the eventual Jewish victory.

Meyerowitz's score is magisterial. After the initial chorale-like religiosity, a punchy and very angular second movement (depicting Haman) leads to a movement memorably marked, 'Adagio-cantabilissimo'. Indeed there are many cantabile lines, contrasting with the active, and even quite dance-inspired, finale. This is an excellent, extrovert way to end an enjoyable and instructive disc. Recommended. 

Colin Clarke





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