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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Service sacré pour le samedi matin Op. 279 (1947) [58:03]
sung in Hebrew
Heinz Rehfuss (bar)
Choeurs de la RTF/Yvonne Gouverné
Orchestre du Théâtre de l'Opéra de Paris/Darius Milhaud
rec. Disques Véga, Paris, 1958, AAD. stereo
Collection Musiques Françaises

ACCORD 476 159 0 [58:03]
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This is a significant recording of a work important in Milhaud's output. Its standing is enhanced by being conducted by the 66 year old composer who proudly declared himself ‘a Frenchman from Provence and of the Israelite faith’.

This Service sacré pour le samedi matin is the most ambitious of his patently devotional works. It was written in June 1947 at Mills College, California. The premiere took place on 18 May 1949 at the Eman-El Temple, San Francisco with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the choir of the University of California at Berkeley and the baritone Edgar Jones.

I had wondered if the passage of almost fifty years might have added a certain shrillness to the sound of this recording. In fact the violins are still surprisingly ripe and sweet. The choral sound, best heard in Avinou (tr. 8), glows with resonance imparting a muscular radiance to the proceedings (Yihyou Leratzon, tr. 9) without over-modulation. Etzhayim (tr. 14) palpably conveys the spirit of serene pilgrimage. There is also a joyous march of the faithful in Adon'olam (tr. 15).

This is the second time I have heard this work in recent years. It has been re-recorded in a similarly fervent performance as part of the Milken Archive project on Naxos. The work emerges again as one of religious commitment and compositional mastery. There is little or no ethnic Jewishness in the piece. Milhaud himself was prone to the use of atonalism during his later years. There is none of that here. The music has its roots struck deep into lyrical mulch. If you like the works of Vaughan Williams (Flos Campi, Hodie, Tudor Portraits), Canteloube (for those pastoral moments), Dyson (Canterbury Pilgrims), even Delius and Roy Harris (Mi Kamoka, tr. 4) you will like this. The Fourth Part of the Service (trs. 15-20) is the most concentrated and affecting.

The Sacred Service is presented in twenty tracks. Sadly the booklet does not provide texts or translations.

Serenity and devotion are the watchwords in this archival recording still in excellent audio fettle and especially potent as evidence of the composer's expression of faith.

Rob Barnett



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