New Jewish Music - Volume 1
Brian CURRENT (b. 1972)
Seven Heavenly Halls for tenor, chorus and orchestra (2016) [27:08]
Wlad MARHULETS (b. 1986)
Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet and orchestra (2008) [16:51]
Lukas FOSS (1922-2009)
Song of Songs for soprano and orchestra (1946) [28:23]
Richard Troxell (tenor)
David Krakauer (clarinet)
Sharon Azrieli (soprano)
Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Steven Mercurio
rec. Sound Trust Recording Studios, Prague, Czech Republic, 2017
ANALEKTA AN29261 [72:22]
The brainchild of Sharon Azrieli, the soprano in this recording for the Azrieli Foundation, the Azrieli Music Prizes were created to foster the ‘creation, performance and celebration of high quality new Jewish music.” With this disc presenting 2016 winners Brian Current the winner of the Azrieli Commission Prize and Wlad Marhulets was the Azrieli Prize Winner.
Of the three works presented here, only one is by a composer I know, Lukas Foss, the German born American composer and it was this work that sparked my interest in this disc. It is all the more disappointing for me then, that it is this recording that I find the least affective of the three here. The work itself is quite good, it has some nice orchestral intervals and a wonderful opening in which the woodwind takes the lead. However, for me what lets this recording down, I am afraid to say, is Sharon Azrieli, I find her use of vibrato a little excessive; she has a distinct wobble, one that for me is an instant turn off. The music is impressive, with this recording only serving to make me look for an alternative version, with Foss’s friend Leonard Bernstein’s recording looking like the best bet. Sadly, the text is not included, and whilst I have done a quick online search, it has at the moment proved elusive.
The first work on the disc, Brian Current’s Seven Heavenly Halls, is the one I find most rewarding. It opens quite powerfully with an orchestral tutti which is swiftly joined by the chorus, there are some interesting orchestral effects, for instance, the way that swirls and swells adds a sense of tension and makes the work quite powerful. The tenor at times seems to be used as a kind of cantor, and although Richard Troxell also suffers at times from vocal vibrato, here it is acceptable as it is not that pronounced and it seems to add to the emotion of the work, with the text being based on the Jewish mystical books known as the Zohar. In this respect, the tenor seems apt as the story teller, especially when he is called upon to recite the text at some pace, and who has the major vocal line, the chorus adding some powerful declamations throughout the work. This is a wonderful tonal work with the vocal line being underpinned by some colourful orchestral writing. Sadly, the text is not included in the booklet, although there is a link to the libretto so that it can be downloaded.
Now, whilst I am not a great fan of klezmer music, the Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet and orchestra by Wlad Marhulets is very interesting. There are times when the clarinet part is quite frenetic, and it is clear that this Concerto has certainly grown out of the klezmer tradition. The soloist, in this case the wonderful David Krakauer, is backed up with some interesting orchestral playing, including an imaginative use of an orchestral piano and a percussion part which especially in the first movement reminds me of Latin American music. The central slow movement is quite beautiful at times as it opens with almost a lament on the clarinet before the strings come in and play a lilting melody. This grows into a faster more angular second section with some stratospheric playing by Krakauer. The second movement leads into the third, seemingly without a break, here the atmosphere is quite different with the drums giving it the feel of an orchestral rock band at times.
A very interesting disc with three very different takes on the tradition of Jewish music, all of which have a place here. It is a well recorded and well performed disc, with only the soprano Sharon Azrieli, letting the side down which is especially sad as it was she who founded the Azrieli Music Prizes in the first place. The music is attractive and tonal and whilst Foss might be the only composer I have heard of, I imagine that it won’t be too long before Current and Marhulets become better known. The release is blessed with good booklet notes that give background on the composers as well as details of their music.