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Jewish String Quartets
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)

Études sur des thèmes liturgiques du Comtat Venaissin (1973)
(Modéré 4:53; Animé 2:05; Modéré 1:51)
Juilliard String Quartet (Joel Smirnoff, violin; Ronald Copes, violin; Samuel Rhodes, viola; Joel Krosnick, cello)
Abraham Wolf BINDER (1895-1966)

Two Hassidic Moods (1934)
(I. Meditation 4:41 5. II. Dance 7:09)
Bochmann String Quartet (Michael Bochmann, violin; Mark Messenger, violin; Helen Roberts, viola; Peter Adams, cello)
Ruth SCHONTHAL (b. 1924)

String Quartet No. 3, In Memoriam Holocaust (1997)
(I. Grave 8:00; II. Lament and Prayer 10:49)
Bingham String Quartet (Stephen Bingham, violin; Sally-Ann Weeks, violin; Brenda Stewart, viola; James Halsey, cello)

Kol Nidre (1996) 6:20
Ilya Kaler, violin; Perrin Yang, violin; George Taylor, viola; Steven Doane, cello
Sholom SECUNDA (1894-1974)

String Quartet in C Minor (1945)
(I. Allegretto 9:15; II. Adagio 4:02; III. Allegro 7:47; IV. Allegro con fuoco 10:30)
Bochmann String Quartet
rec. Oct 2001, AAAL, NYC (Milhaud); Nov 1998 (Binder, Secunda), Feb 1999 (Schonthal), St Silas, London; Sept 1999, Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School, Rochester, USA (Zorn)

A provocatively miscellaneous collection of string quartets by Jewish composers.

The Milhaud Etudes are in three movements. It was written just a year before his death and is in his most accessible and tautly lyrical mode: well sprung and coiled. To my ears it is not specially ethnic but thatís a descriptive remark; not a criticism. This is completely disarming music-making without kitsch. Given the title it is no surprise to hear a shadow of the Dies Irae in the first movement. The Juilliard Quartet play with calm and sensitivity and neatly tread the fine line between simplicity and banality. Overall the music recalls the folksy string quartets of E.J. Moeran.

By contrast Abraham Binder's Two Hassidic Moods from 1934 are more noticeably Jewish with a lovely poised Meditation - perhaps paralleling the Suk Meditation. There is also a dank slow dance that is more suggestive of limbering up than the physicality of dance.

Ruth Schonthal was born in Hamburg but fled Germany with her family in the late 1930s. She found a new life in the USA. In this two movement quartet furious clouds of allusion fret and buzz away even in the contemplative segments. Amongst the voices are those of Shostakovich, Rimsky's Sheherazade and Klezmer. As the notes say, she is more romanticist than modernist but modern touches are there to be heard. Her fifth quartet is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.

John Zorn was born in New York City - just like Binder. He was much taken up with the avant-garde 'scene' but this single movement Kol Nidre is a diversion from his usual uncompromising style. It is conservative in outlook and subjects fragments of the Kol Nidre melody to meditative treatment à la Tallis Fantasia.

Shalom Seconda was born in the Kherson region of the Ukraine. He emigrated to the USA with his family in 1907. His four movement string quartet was written in 1945. It is deeply conservative and combines a light dusting of Semitic supplication with a language firmly rooted in Schubert, DvořŠk and Smetana. Much more of Vienna flows through the veins of this quartet than of Secunda's natural home, the music theater of New York's Second Avenue. I found this the least inspiring of all the works here - for me it never finds its own freshness and life.

Superbly thorough notes. Top marks to Naxos and Milken. What a series!

This remains a fascinating disc and satisfying in the way that the remnants and extracts approach found on some of the single composer Milken discs fails.

Rob Barnett

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