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Paul SCHOENFIELD (b.1947)
Viola Concerto (1997-98) [19.11]
Robert Vernon (viola)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Yoel Levi
recorded Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin, November 2000
Four Motets (1995) [11.22]
BBC Singers/Avner Itai
recorded St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, London, July 2000
The Merchant and The Pauper (1999) – Excerpts from Act II [26.48]
Jennifer Larson (soprano)
Pei Yi Wang (mezzo soprano)
Christopher Meerdink (tenor)
Gary Moss (baritone)
Tyler Oliphant (baritone)
Mark Kent (bass)
Isaiah Sheffer (speaker)
University of Michigan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Kenneth Kiesler
recorded Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, January 2001
NAXOS MILKEN ARCHIVE 8.559418 [57.41]

Schoenfield’s music has often been noted for its Hassidic aspects though the melancholic elements that co-exist have perhaps been downplayed.

In his recent Viola Concerto we can certainly hear an aesthetic which we can impute to the influence of Bloch, with a patchwork of melodic strands and some bold rhythmic dance gestures in both solo and especially orchestral lines. To that we can add light but elegantly precise scoring with an especially delightful moment in the central, slow movement where the oboe winds behind the musing viola’s solo - it has an expressive, communing quality that impresses. Schoenfield isn’t afraid to take his soloist up high over the reflective, supporting orchestral tissue. This is warmly romantic, purely tonal and carried off in this performance with considerable aplomb. In the finale there are hints of Shostakovich, and the Hebraic elements are more artfully, less effusively presented than in a contemporary work such as Isaac Schwartz’s Yellow Stars. There’s increasing drama, especially in the Dance of David, with dance patterns renewed and some Klezmer smear as well.

The Viola Concerto is the major work here but the Four Motets make an individual mark with their reflections on High Renaissance practice, the chromaticism adding to an effect of newly minted traditionalism. The harmonies are at their richest in the second of the four – all are short – and the sense of displaced time, or a sense of time as a continuum, is maybe at its most effective in the last. There are also three excerpts from Act II of The Merchant and The Pauper, his 1999 two-act opera. This was based on mystic ideas enshrined in the writings of Reb Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1811), a charismatic leader of his community. The most substantial is the twelve-minute excerpt from Scene 1 – strong romantic lines and sonorous narration, whilst there’s vibrant dance music in the fifth scene. Extensive though the notes are – they always are with the Milken Archive discs – it’s invariably only a partial view of the opera.

All the performances are committed and the trio of recording locations fortunately doesn’t jar the ear. I found the Concerto the most impressive of the works here – full of Bloch and Shostakovich lineage and attractive. All are premiere recordings.


Jonathan Woolf



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