Three composers are involved in this first co-production between Analekta and the Azrieli Music Prizes: Brian Current and Wlad Marhulets, winners of the 2016 Azrieli Commissioning Competition and Azrieli Prize in Jewish Music, respectively, and the American Lukas Foss. The Czech National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Steven Mercurio, the choir by Miriam Nmcová. Soloists are soprano Sharon Azrieli, clarinetist David Krakauer and tenor Richard Troxell.
In The Seven Heavenly Halls, Current offers his musical vision of the Zohar, the fundamental text of the Kabbalah. Tension in the orchestra, a tumult of voices, mystical flights of fancy and dense textures characterize this work, in which each hall leads to an ecstatic state that is endowed with particular colors and musical textures. Troxell is at once imposing, threatening and tormented, sometimes bordering on Sprechgesang. He brilliantly navigates the outbursts of an orchestra and choir caught in a chaos of splendour that takes on a luminous and enigmatic quality in the last movement.
Wlad Marhulets’s Concerto for Klezmer Clarinet contrasts sharply with the previous work, plunging us into the festive character of klezmer music. The work features Krakauer, through whose work Marhulets discovered this folk style. The first and third movements are energetic, exploiting the virtuosity of the soloist and evoking the ceremonial, festive and lightly ironic aspects of music originally intended to celebrate marriages and processions. The second movement, slow and meditative, takes on mystic and enigmatic hues. If the form recalls the classical concerto, the contribution of Marhulets is distinguished by its fusion of languages. Klezmer music is part of a symphonic ensemble, tinged with elements of jazz, funk and the Middle East. The orchestra does justice to the spectral nature of the writing, and the performance of Krakauer is dazzling.
The Song of Songs of Lukas Foss is better known, having been recorded by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Premiered in 1947 under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky, one of Foss’s teachers at Tanglewood, this epic masterpiece was composed when Foss was only 24. Mercutio leading the Czech National Symphony Orchestra chooses a quiet tempo that somewhat inhibits the excitement and vivacity of the writing but is suited to the final prayer. Soprano Sharon Azrieli has great energy and vocal presence, although a certain lack of nuance at times diminishes the poetry of the musical text.
In any case, this album gives an airing to important works of Jewish music of the 20th and 21st centuries that respond with individuality to the thorny issues raised by the question of Jewish musical identity.