Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, for clarinet and string quartet, is one of Osvaldo Golijov's most popular and frequently performed works; this release featuring clarinetist Franklin Cohen and an unnamed quartet made up of top-flight American orchestral and chamber players is the third recorded version to appear. Its popularity is no surprise, perhaps first of all because it's one of Golijov's few pieces written for a standard instrumental ensemble; the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms rank among the greatest chamber works ever written, and Weber's quintet gets frequent performances. The immediate appeal of the music is certainly another compelling draw for performers and audiences. In three movements with a brief prelude and postlude, the piece lasts about 35 minutes. The title refers to a 13th century mystic who postulated that various configurations of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet account for everything in the universe. Golijov came to think of the piece, after it was completed, as a summation of 6,000 years of Jewish history, with its three movements alluding to three languages, the first Aramaic, the second Yiddish, and the third Hebrew. Throughout, the influence of Jewish folk material is in strong evidence, with Klezmer dominating the second movement, and the third movement evoking cantorial singing. (The third movement is a reworking of K'vakarat, a 1994 piece Golijov wrote for the Kronos Quartet and cantor Misha Alexandrovich.) Cohen, using a B flat clarinet, bass clarinet, and basset horn, is a terrific soloist, playing with intense passion and understanding, and a flamboyant virtuosic flair when appropriate. The string players very capably handle their treacherous parts, performing with the unanimity, subtlety, and blend of a seasoned quartet. The sound is clear, atmospheric, and beautifully detailed. It may be a drawback for some listeners that this work lasting just over half an hour is the only piece on the CD, but the same is true of the Kronos Quartet's premiere 1997 recording.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind|