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Jocelyn POOK (b. 1960)
Drawing Life: Remembering Terezin (2014)
Melanie Pappenheim, Lorin Sklamberg (voice), Flora Curzon (violin), Jocelyn Pook (viola/voice/piano), Laura Moody, Kate Shortt (cello/voice), Susi Evans (clarinet), Milos Milivojovic (accordion), Ruth Wall (harp)
No recording details provided

In 1988 Steve Reich produced his landmark work, Different Trains, in which actual recorded voices of holocaust survivors were superimposed over a string quartet, the music of which was based on the speech rhythms of the recorded voices. 35 years later, Jocelyn Pook has done something very similar, but expanded on it – one element being the sound of recorded dogs barking in the fourth track, “Schnell, Schnell” – added new words by a variety of living writers (including the composer herself) and made the pre-recorded voices more central to the work, rather than, as Reich had done, springboards for the musical invention. The result is a highly effective, emotionally-charged and profoundly moving collection of recollections of and reflections on what Pook describes as “one of the greatest deceptive ploys used by the Nazis during WW2”.

The story of the work goes back to 2013 when the Jewish Music Institute commissioned her to write an original work to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the closure of the Terezin concentration camp. During the war it had been used as a transit camp for more than 150,000 Jews, a number which included some 15,000 children of whom less than 150 survived. It is those survivors’ testimonies which form the foundation of Pook’s work, which has now been recorded and released on CD to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the camp.

Pook seems especially interested in the journeys the inmates of the camp undertook to get there, and many of the 15 tracks convey that sense of journeying; the most effective of these being track 7, “Packing”, where above a steady treading instrumental accompaniment, with more than a hint of a Jewish melody, lists of belongings packed by the travellers are sung by members of the ensemble. That ensemble comprises seven instrumentalists, some of whom add their voices to the two principal vocalists, Melanie Pappenheim and Lorin Sklamberg. Musically the language is more folksy than anything else, although the music throughout has strong links with Jewish themes, and Pook uses the instrumental resources to singularly good effect, the instrumental prelude to no.8. “Draw What You See” particularly effective. She also appreciates the need to keep the instrumental element very much in reserve when the texts are so powerful as in No.9, “Forbidden”. Pook shows herself adept at musical parody – the jaunty “Laugh with Us” is a bitingly sarcastic take on a number form a Broadway stage musical - but to follow this with the austere “Where are we Going”, is a touch of pure dramatic genius. Not everything fully succeeds; the opening of no.13 “On a Sunny Evening” has is awkwardly na´ve as the various vocalists sing in some kind of unison, but it suddenly breaks out into a whirling Hebrew dance complete with jaunty clarinet and wailing voice. But overall, this is a most compelling work delivered with obvious sincerity and genuine empathy by these 10 performers.

Marc Rochester

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