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Klezmer dreams
Béla KOVÁCS (b. 1937)
Sholem-alekhem, rov Feidman! for clarinet and piano (2004) [5:34]
Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b. 1960)
The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, for clarinet quintet (1994) [35:10]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34, for clarinet, string quartet and piano (1919) [9:07]
Airat ICHMOURATOV (b. 1973)
One Day of an Almost Ordinary Life, Op. 47, for clarinet quintet (2015) [19:06]
André Moisan (clarinet)
Jean Saulnier (piano)
Quatuor Molinari (Olga Ranzenhofer and Frédéric Bednarz, violins; Frédéric Lambert, viola; Pierre-Alain Bouvrette, cello)
No recording details provided
ATMA ACD22738 [68:57]

Klezmer, the folk music of the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Eastern Europe, was almost snuffed out by the Nazis, but survived and in recent years has enjoyed a revival. There are several practising klezmer bands and the music has influenced classical music in a whole range of ways, varying from the occasionally adoption of klezmer idioms, as did Mahler and Bloch, through pastiche compositions, to works which draw on the idiom for serious purposes. Some classical musicians have also dabbled in the idiom. It is characterized by expressive melodies, often using the Phrygian dominant mode, bent notes, swoops, slides and glissandi and also vigorous dance rhythms which become more and more excited.

Here we have four works, two of which are pastiche klezmer compositions, and two of which are more serious. Béla Kovács’ Sholem-alekhem, rov Feidman! is an absolutely characteristic introduction to the idiom, for clarinet and piano. Kovács is himself a clarinettist and wrote this as a tribute to another player. It begins with glissandi and trills on the clarinet and works up to a lively conclusion. Airat Ichmouratov’s One Day of an Almost Ordinary Life, a clarinet quintet, is similar but longer, beginning with a long clarinet solo then moving through a sequence of moods, some more cheerful, some graver, before reaching a climax.

The other two works are more serious. Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes is well-known, and usually treated light-heartedly. Here we have a surprisingly serious approach, slightly slower than usual and with greater expressive weight. I was impressed by this rethinking of a familiar work and liked it a good deal.

The longest work here, Golijov’s Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, is already a modern classic – I make this at least the sixth recording. You can read an essay about it here. Like the Ichmouratov it is a clarinet quintet, but an intensely serious one, with a very distant relationship to Brahms’ clarinet quintet, with its evocation of gypsy music. It is in four movements. The first is meditative, sometimes calm and sometimes anguished. The second begins slowly but gradually turns into a dance. This is the most characteristically klezmer-inspired movement. The third is quiet and withdrawn but rises to a grinding climax. The fourth is an epilogue. I first heard this work in the recording by its creators, David Krakauer and Kronos quartet on Nonesuch. I also liked the performance by Todd Palmer and the St Lawrence string quartet on EMI, and I like this new performance too.

The clarinettist here, André Moisan, has a day job as bass clarinet and saxophone player for the Montreal symphony orchestra. He also works in different fields and here shows himself thoroughly at ease with the klezmer idiom. He plays a normal French-style clarinet but seems to me to produce the right klezmer sound with it. He also – though the sleevenote does not say so – occasionally turns to the bass clarinet for some of the deeper sounds we hear and possibly also to the C clarinet for some of the higher ones. He is very much the star turn here, but is well supported by the Quatuor Molinari and the pianist Jean Saulnier. The Prokofiev is the only work in which they all play.

The recording is clear and good, though no details are given. The sleeve note gives some basic information but is a bit shy of providing dates and the like. There is also a bonus work, available only digitally, Srul Irving Glick’s The klezmer wedding, which I have not heard. The Canada Music Fund should be thanked for their sponsorship. This is a thoroughly worthwhile disc.

Stephen Barber



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