John Neschling


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Although this Swedish release features four Jewish-themed works that touch upon the idea of remembrance, only one, the final Requiem Ebraico of Erich Zeisl, was specifically shaped by the Holocaust. Zeisl, an Austrian Jew who fled to the U.S. and began to write film scores (among them The Postman Always Rings Twice), suffered the loss of his father and many of his friends in concentration camps in the war's grim final years. Listeners must judge his requiem (a setting of Psalm 92) according to their own experiences; it is an unusual work with its contrasts among operatic duets, Jewish modal inflections, and rather academic final fugue. Two other works on the program feature soloists of Israeli origin in Jewish works separate from the immediate impulse of the Holocaust; flutist Sharon Bezaly is especially effective in Leonard Bernstein's Halil (1981), dedicated to the memory of a young flutist killed in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The work is an admirable example of Bernstein's ability to reduce his Mahlerian idiom to small dimensions, and Bezaly's extremely dramatic flute playing stands up to the work's vigorous percussion writing. Violinist Vadim Guzman delivers a precise reading of Bloch's Baal Shem (1939) shaped by the Russian Jewish school of violin playing that remained the standard for so long. The program opens with Arnold Schoenberg's tonal and English-language Kol Nidre, Op. 39, of 1938, with speaker and choir. As usual with the programs of twentieth century music on the BIS label, this one adds up to more than the sum of its parts; the Schoenberg work defines the parameters of the music, and even though the ensembles involved in the four pieces differ greatly the entire group holds together and makes a cumulative impact, at least until the final piece. Once again, BIS has located a top-notch regional orchestra in the São Paulo Symphony and backed it with impressive sonics. This reimagination of the Jewish strain in music of the twentieth century is highly recommended.

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