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Gyora NOVAK (b.1934)
Sh’maa! The Dirge of York (1995)
(speaker), Gyora Novak (speaker),
Eidit Arad (mezzo),
Nicholas Hill (horn),
Catherine Butler-Smith (oboe),
David Watkins (harp),
Robert Truman (cello),
Chris Brannick (percussion)
No recording details
The Israeli composer Gyora
Novak was born in 1934. Whilst in London in 1990 he saw a
television programme devoted to the York Massacre of 1190
in which all the city’s Jews were killed. Attacked on all
sides the Jews fled to the wooden Clifford’s Tower, which
they then burned to the ground in mass suicide. Novak sought
to commemorate the event and to promote – in its widest sense – understanding
and reconciliation. Clearly other murderous things were going
on at the time in Europe and the Dirge thus takes on a contemporary
yet timeless feel.
The Lament is a thirty-six
part text set to music, recited and sung in Hebrew with a
spoken English translation. The parts are divided equally
between a baritone speaker and a mezzo soprano singer. There’s
a small accompanying instrumental group which consists of
horn, oboe, harp, cello and percussion. The harpist in this
recording, David Watkins who, having worked closely with
Novak, was responsible for the instrumental arrangements.
The first half is recited
in Hebrew, the second in English; the composer is himself
the reciter. Though there are texts in Hebrew and English
it’s actually rather difficult to follow as the texts are
marked 1-8 and there are fifty separate tracks. Hebrew is
a forceful language and Novak’s recitations are considerably
more vehement than the English recitations of Rohan McCollough.
There is also the curious, ghostly and quiet Hebrew to be
heard underneath the English spoken text. I wondered at first
if this wasn’t a mistake – and I still do, but it does have
a certain resonance and sense of continuum about it. The
graph of the accompanying instruments mirrors the text’s
emotive gravity either through sparse comments or through
more intense textures.
Certain things act as refrains,
the repeatedly tolling Kaddish for instance. And there are
sections for the mourning cello over harp and discreet percussion.
There are references to Masada, another famous massacre-suicide,
and the questions “How can we forgive? Who will forgive?…” But
gradually the music becomes more consoling and emptied of
This is after all an occasional
piece. I believe it has only once been publicly performed – on
the 850th anniversary of the massacre, on 17 March
1995 in the remains of Clifford’s Tower in York.
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