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David AMRAM (b.1930)
Symphony – Songs of the Soul (1987) 30.24]
Shir L’erev Shabbat (excerpts) (1965) 12.24]
The Final Ingredient (excerpts) (1966) [20.03]
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin/Christopher Wilkins (Symphony, recorded Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, 1999)
Richard Troxell (tenor), BBC Singers, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ)/Kenneth Kiesler (Shir L’erev Shabbat, recorded St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, London 2001)
Deborah Selig (soprano); Pei Yi Wang (mezzo); Sarah Elizabeth Williams (mezzo soprano); Thomas Glenn (tenor); Brian Pfaltzgraf (tenor); Nathan Phan (tenor); Jesse Blumberg (baritone); Tyler Oliphant (baritone); Mark Kent (bass)
University of Michigan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/ Kenneth Kiesler, (The Final Ingredient, recorded University of Michigan, 2001)
NAXOS 8.559420 [63.12]

Amram’s Symphony is a melting pot of Jewish musics, a polycultural exploration that embraces disparate traditions and does so with colour and verve. Whether it’s Ethiopian chants in the first movement – with attendant brass and percussive high points – or his own Nigun melody, an original Hassidic invention, in the second, the ear is constantly beguiled by incident. Affectionately warm one moment, joyously brassier the next, ever laced with the rhythmic dramas of the percussion section, we come face to face with a spirit of optimism and involvement. Few others than Amran would mine a Yemenite dance for his third movement finale, by some way the longest of the movements. Here we find more avuncular cymbal clash and klezmer meld; colourful, exciting with a real openness of mind and spirit; and a delightful way of reintroducing the earlier themes at the finale’s conclusion.

The Symphony was written in 1987 when Amran was fifty-seven. The excerpts from The Final Ingredient and Shir L’erev Shabbat are much earlier works, 1966 and 1965 respectively (though there seems to be a conflict between the jewel case and the notes, which claims 1961 as the date of the premiere of Shir L’erev Shabbat). The latter is a sacred piece and the excerpts are twelve minutes long. They’re enough to indicate the use of original themes, the clever and effective organ solo at the start of Mi khamokha and the increasingly fervent solo for the solo tenor in the same movement (Richard Troxell) as well as the robustness and moments of parlando in the Kiddush.

The Final Ingredient was Amran’s second opera and is concerned with faith. We have extracts from scenes 5, 9 and 10 though the central scene is only two minutes long. A lullaby is cut short by crude interjections from German guards – the opera has a Holocaust setting – and we hear a hymn of faith in the tenth scene, with a noble melodic line, juxtaposed with a keening Jewish chant. The fixity of the story generates a more universal resonance in the "consequences of hatred" though we can garner only a very partial perception of how the opera would work on stage from so brief an amount of extracts.

As usual with this series no expense has been spared on the richness of the booklet material. And this is especially important in a project of this kind where so much has to be, perforce, left behind. The texts are here and the full synopsis of the opera as well. Inevitably one’s focus is on the Symphony but the wholehearted and commendable performers ensure that no aspect of this disc should be overlooked.

Jonathan Woolf




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