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Samuel Adler (b.1928)
Five Sephardic Choruses (1991)
(I. Yom Gila [1:43]; II. Ya Ribbon Olam [1:11]; III. Ein Keloheinu [2:16]; IV. Adon Olam [2:09]; V. Zamm'ri Li [1:14])
Mary Ellen Callahan, soprano
Helen Kruszewski, soprano (III. only)
Heather Johnson, mezzo-soprano
Matthew Kirchner, tenor
Gideon Dabi, baritone (III. only)
Ted Christopher, baritone
Pen Ying Fang, piano
Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir/Patrick Gardner
Recorded Plymouth Church of Pilgrims, Brooklyn NY May; November 2001
Nuptial Scene (1975) [8:59]
Margaret Bishop Kohler, mezzo-soprano
Eastman Players/Samuel Adler
Recorded Kilbourn Hall/Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester NY February 1998
The Binding (excerpt) (1967) [8:57]
Freda Herseth, soprano
Joseph Evans, tenor
Raphael Frieder, baritone
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Samuel Adler
Recorded Slovak Radio Hall, Bratislavia, Slovak Republic, June 1998
Selected Liturgical Works

El Melekh Yoshev (Date not given) [2:59]
Cantor Alberto Mizrahi
Barbara Harbach, organ
Rochester Singers/Samuel Adler
Recorded Kilbourn Hall/Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester NY May 1992
Ahavat Olam (1960s) [1:56]
Sim Shalom (Date not given) [2:02]
Bar'khu (1976) [1:13]
Sh'ma Yisra'el (1976) [1:34]
V’ahavta and Mi Khamokha (1976) [3:36]
Cantor Roslyn Jhunever Barak
Barbara Harbach, organ
Rochester Singers
Samuel Adler, conductor
Hashkivenu (1976) [4:46]
Cantor Richard Botton
Barbara Harbach, organ
Rochester Singers/Samuel Adler
Recorded Kilbourn Hall/Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester NY May 1992
Symphony No. 5 We Are the Echoes (1975)
(I. We Go [3:41]; II. Even During War [4:52]; III. The Future [4:57]; IV. We Are the Echoes [6:39]; V. God Follows Me Everywhere [5:11])
Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Samuel Adler
Jesus Christus Kirche Berlin, Germany July 1998
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS MILKEN ARCHIVE OF AMERICAN JEWISH MUSIC 8.559415 [70:39]

 


I must confess to having heard nothing from ‘one of America’s most respected composers’ – Samuel Adler - before this recording. And I am not sure that this CD is the one that will make me wish to explore his music further. However the Symphony is the one work here that seems to me to save the reputation of this disc and raise it from the mildly interesting to the special.

Even a superficial encounter with this recording reveals a composer that is competent and well able to change his style to suit the nature of the music. What makes him rare is that there is a definite consistency across his use of an eclectic range of styles.

He comes from a family of musicians, his father having been a cantor and composer in Mannheim. The Adlers were lucky enough to escape to the USA in 1939 and Samuel was able to study music in complete freedom and security. His teachers included Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Randall Thompson and Walter Piston.

I candidly accept that there are some cultural barriers that come between me and this music. Fundamentally I do not understand the background to Jewish Liturgical music – it has just not been a part of my religious or musical heritage or tradition. Having been brought up on a diet of Anglican Cathedral music, the liturgical music of the synagogue is a novel experience. However, I must confess that much of the specifically liturgical music on this disc generates a sense of the numinous that defies religious boundaries.

Bearing mind that the composer is noted for his sophisticated musical language, the Five Sephardic Choruses are, to my ears at any rate, trite. They are like much Christian liturgical music that is quite obviously second best – like countless arrangements of Christmas Carols that do not really hit the spot. There is nothing wrong with them - just plain average.

Now it is clear from the programme notes that these five choruses are based on ancient tunes derived from Jewish history. I looked up the word Sephardic and discovered that it has a number of shades of meaning. Originally the Sephardi were Jews who were native to Spain and Portugal and were expelled as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. However the current day usage seems to apply equally to Jews from the Near East including Yemen, Iraq and Iran who have emigrated to Israel or the United States. This accounts for an old Yemeni tune in the last of the Choruses. I personally found the singing a little to ‘screechy’ although this may be the style called for by the music.

The Nuptial Scene sounds like so much music that was composed in the 1970s. I am just not sure where it sits in the hierarchy of genius. It is not my cup of tea although I can see that many listeners will find it extremely moving. What I notice is that the orchestration is colourful, yet the vocal line seems to lack distinction.

I can find little in the extract from The Binding that would make me want desperately to hear the full work. This oratorio is all about Isaac and Abraham and the former’s rather close call on the funeral pyre. Once again this music is very much a child of its time although I have to admit that the music appeals to me much more than some of Benjamin Britten’s Parables! If you like this sort of quasi-operatic event you will like this music.

The selected liturgical works seem to me the most eye-opening thing on this CD. The thing that really makes it for me is the Cantor Alberto Mizrahi. His voice is in complete contrast to the previous two works. This not the place to explore the Jewish liturgy, however just listening to these pieces confirms that the musical tradition in the Synagogue is alive and well. This music was written in the 1960s and is in complete contrast to the other pieces composed at this time. Yet this is working music – designed for the faithful and not just the concert going cognoscenti.

The Symphony No.5 We are the Echoes opens with some promising music before it is stopped in its track by the singer. Now I am not sure if this is a ‘true’ symphony – to me it is more like an orchestrated song-cycle. Yet whatever the form, it is quite obviously a considerable work.

The theme is a reflection of the Jewish experience of history – so obviously there are few light moments in this work. However the piece does end with great hope – that ‘God follows me everywhere’ which seems a huge leap of faith after Belsen and Dachau. Yet this is surely the great strength of the Jewish faith – that it survives in adversity. The opening movement uses the perennial imagery of the Wandering Jew and this is surely appropriate. One prays that one day he may find rest.

The singer is sometimes lost in the surrounding orchestral tuttis. There are many attractive and even beautiful moments in this work and the orchestration seems pretty good too. However I do not like the singer Phyllis Bryn-Julson – she is too reedy for my taste. Perhaps another singer might just make this work perfect.

The presentation of this disc is superb – there is a nice feel to it – being somewhat different in design to the usual Naxos American Classics production. The programme notes by Neil Levin and the composer are extensive. The lyrics and libretti are all present and correct.

So in conclusion, this is an interesting CD; good in parts. I am perhaps the wrong person to review this CD as I really do not warm to Adler’s vocal style. However, the orchestral elements of this CD make me feel that I would like to hear a work by this composer for instruments or orchestra without voices.

John France



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