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Gyora NOVAK (b.1934)
Sh’maa! The Dirge of York
(1995)
Rohan McCollough (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
CLAUDIO CC4832-2 [71:13]



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 external feelings.
 
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.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 



 


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