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The music of Julian Dawes on Holocaust Day,


Perhaps even more than words, music has an uncanny power to cry out and protest, and such was the effect of Songs of Ashes by Julian Dawes, performed at a concert on 27 January, that it formed an aptly poignant symbol to complement the commemorations of Britain's first annual 'Holocaust Day' on 26 January. The work formed the climax of a concert of 'The Music of Julian Dawes, -- "In memory of the Holocaust"' given at Lauderdale House in
London's Highgate Village. Dawes, an experienced composer of music for theatre, has set the fifteen harrowing poems by Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski about the destruction of Polish Jewry with a wide gamut of emotions, strongly characterized vocal lines and evocative, often impressionistic accompaniments, somewhat redolent of Benjamin Britten. The cycle was sung with conviction by the resilient-toned operatic soprano Anya Szreter with the composer at the piano -- both artists having premièred the piece in 1992.

In the opening song, Wailing Wall -- the notion that 'for nineteen hundred years they threw their sobs at a wall', is evoked in biting dissonances and sinewy melodies, while the impassioned harmonies of The Seven Words lend poignancy to the 'silences by the million are silent'. While there is an intimate expressiveness to some of the songs, such as the high contours I did not manage to save, other songs display sardonic irony, as in the icy clashes that undermine a childlike dance in Girl of Six from the ghetto or the bluesy swing of Jewish Effects. The final song, A Throng of Stones -- captures a suitably spacious reflective mood for the imagery of 'Here a stone recites kaddish', and rounds off an engagingly varied, accessible and expressive work.

If there was perhaps less musical variety in Songs from Samuel Hanagid, the world première eloquently sung in Hebrew by tenor Robert Brody highlighted the 11th century poet's beautiful verses, set to elegiac melodies with a hint of Mediterranean influence. Dawes' Elegie for violin and piano which opened the concert, played by Robert Norman with the composer, further highlighted a lyrical gift of individual inspiration. The theme of the concert was further enhanced with evocative poetry readings, including some works by Primo Levi, by the actress Geraldine James.

The event was in aid of the Cherub Theatre Company, of which Julian Dawes is music director. Cherub's forthcoming 'Degenerate' season at the Riverside Studios (13 February -- 4 March) features the UK stage première of Hans Krasa's children's opera Brundibar, one of the works performed during WWII at Teresienstadt. Alongside it will be a new adaptation of Kafka's The Trial with Dawes' original music: a double bill well worth visiting.

Copyright © 8 February 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK







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