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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

 

Judith Lang ZAIMONT (b.1945)
Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening1 (excerpts) (1976) [27:29]
A Woman of Valor2 (1977) [6:39]
Parable: A Tale of Abram and Isaac3 (1986) [16:35]
Meditations at the Time of the New Year4 (1997) [13:05]
1 James Maddalena (baritone), Ernst Senff Choir, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Gerard Schwarz; 2 Margaret Kohler (soprano), Everest String Quartet (Stephen Rose and Jeanne Preucil Rose, violins, Joan DerHovsepian, viola, Brant Taylor, (cello)/Samuel Adler; 3 Frances Lucey (soprano), John Aler (tenor), Randall Scarlata (baritone), Harold Lester (harpsichord), The Ruskin Ensemble, Laudibus Choir/Michael Brewer; 4 Martha Cowan (soprano), Kimball Wheeler (mezzo-soprano), Theresa Diamond (glockenspiel), Timm Boatman (tubular bells), Choral Society of Southern California/Nick Strimple.
rec. August 1992, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York2; May, 1999, Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Beverley Hills, California4; April 2000, Jesus Christus Kirche, Berlin1; July 2000, The Warehouse, London3.
NAXOS 8.559444 [66:12]

I have heard all too little of the music of Judith Lang Zaimont. I can only remember hearing – and enjoying – some music for piano solo. This included a striking Piano Sonata and a modern Nocturne as well as the fascinating Jupiter’s Moons, complex and allusive, yet very individual keyboard writing. She has also written three symphonies, many choral settings, a chamber opera for children, music for wind ensembles and a number of chamber works (see her website http://www.jzaimont.com/). This CD from Naxos concentrates on only one strand in her work, music explicitly written in response to Jewish traditions.

There is much fine music here. The excerpts from her Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening are impressive and powerful, but a little frustrating. The Milken Archive series often seems to present works through excerpts; this hasn’t normally troubled me, but here I was very much left wanting to hear the whole, to see how everything cohered. The work was commissioned in 1976 by the Great Neck Choral Society and was designed as a concert work, rather than for liturgical use. Its idiom is essentially tonal, with some telling dissonances at several key points. The choral writing is sophisticated and quite demanding, though complexity is never allowed to obscure the texts. Neil W. Levin’s booklet notes tell us that "the sixteen movements [six are presented here] ... appear in three large sections of five pieces each, with an epilogue following Part three. Parts one and two exhibit a dramatic approach, each concluding with an impressive choral movement. Part three (not represented in the recorded excerpts here) has a more sustained, meditative character". The comments are tantalising and begin to suggest something of the extra significance these extracts might take on if heard in their proper context. The whole work would surely have fitted on one CD? I am tempted to think that I would have sacrificed the other works on the CD (not that they are other than interesting) to hear this entire. The German choir cope pretty well and James Maddalena is a convincing soloist.

A Woman of Valor is a beautifully lyrical piece, in which the music is closely responsive to the text (the famous passage in Proverbs 31 which begins "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is above rubies"). The writing for string quartet is both elegant and forceful, and Margaret Kohler is a fresh-voiced soloist.

Zaimont’s Parable sets a text created from an adaptation of the Mystery play ‘Abraham and Isaac’, Wilfred Owen’s ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ and (sung in Hebrew) the Mourner’s Kaddish. It is a compelling piece, urgently dramatic; despite one’s familiarity with Britten’s settings of some of the same material there is enough that is distinctive and persuasive in Zaimont’s work to make one temporarily forget it. The choral passages drive the narrative forward, the solo voices of Abraham and Isaac are more static. All the soloists are excellent and the whole is thoroughly impressive. It has apparently been performed with some frequency in the USA. This recording was made in London – has it ever had a concert performance in the UK? It deserves one.

Initially, the two Meditations at the Time of the New Year seemed to me the weakest pieces on the CD, but they have grown on me with later hearings. In the first, ‘Dawn’, we have a musical meditation on sunrise; the second ‘Hope’ is both blessing and prayer. Both make much use of percussion and the juxtaposition of glockenspiel and bells with choral voices produces some unusual effects. The Choral Society of North America handle some difficult music very well.

This is one of the most consistently rewarding of the fascinating Milken Archive series. So much so that it leaves one wanting to hear more.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 



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