Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lone voices - Jewish composers


This excellent new Harmonia Mundi release of music for viols played by Fretwork couples the loan voices of Jewish composers of the Tudor and Stuart courts with a distinctive contemporary voice. Although Jews were banished by edict from England in 1290 a presence remained in the form of marranos, or nominally converted 'New Christians', who traded between London, Antwerp and Lisbon. The practice of tolerating covert followers of the Jewish faith was further reinforced when Henry VIII recruited Venetian musicians from the Italian diaspora to form six-part consorts for his Private Music.

The Venetian composers of the music on this CD for viols from the Duarte, Lupo and Bassano families are now thought to have been Jewish. Their music from the Tudor and Stuart courts is interspersed in true mixing-it style with the three movements of contemporary composer Orlando Gough's klezmer-based Birds on Fire. Particularly noteworthy are the Two Sinfonias in 5 parts by Leonora Duarte, it is not often you come across women composers of the 17th century.

This is an imaginative mixture of ancient and modern in a rewarding seventy-five minute programe. Fretwork, as ever, produce a wonderful tone coupled with bouncy articulation in the klezmer rhythms, all captured in beautiful sound by Adrian Hunter. But just as Henry VIII's private musicians hid their true identity so does this fine CD. The cover (above) proclaims Production USA despite being recorded in darkest Suffolk and Deptford, England.

In a neat piece of synchronicity I bought Birds on Fire while reading a very thought-provoking novel about the conundrum of Jewishness. American author Ellen Feldman has made something of a speciality of mixing fact with fiction in her novels and I first came across her work in Scottsboro which is a fictional elaboration of the notorious trial of the same name. I must say I approached her earlier novel The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank with some trepidation but the cheesy-sounding sounding title fails to do justice to this thoughtful book.

As readers of Anne Frank's diary will know her companion in the secret annex in Amsterdam, Peter van Pels, also perished in a concentration camp after their discovery. But The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank re-engineers fact and in the novel van Pels survives and builds a successful career and marriage in America. The conundrum of Jewishness is the central theme but there are also very convincing descriptions of the blackness into which the marginalised can descend. Some of the most thought-provoking and moving fiction I have read for some time. The closing lines of the novel say it all - 'My God, have they no memory?'

Speaking of which, now I propose to tell you of Buchenwald ...
Lone voices showcases music not featured in the 2008 BBC Proms, discover more lone voices here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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