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<<  -- 3 --  Jennifer Paull    SINGLE VOICE


For me, the most inspired work on this CD is undoubtedly that of Peaceman's own pen, abyss/scorched earth. There are three movements, abyss/scorched earth, elijah's mantel and shtetl. Again, this piece is performed with a modern oboe.

'Every reader finds himself. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself'. -- Marcel Proust, (1871-1922)

Matthew Peaceman (born 1956) captures a vast subject, the Holocaust, in this remarkable work. One cannot be unmoved. One realises the horror and the pain through the beauty of the writing. Peaceman's witness cannot leave the listener or the performer indifferent. For me, this is one of the major twentieth century works for oboe solo on a level with Sequenza VII by Luciano Berio (1925-2003).

In the composer's own words:

'Abyss was written within the context of my own confrontation with the Shoah [Holocaust] and is one expression of my personal attempt to define for myself, what it means to be a Jew living in Germany at the end of the twentieth century.'

The first movement is a cry of anguish that rises from a tremor of a held gasp to a scream of fear. Through streaming tears and sobs, the multiphonics of Peaceman's superb performance tell a story of outrage. Banging fists against a wall of mental agony and injustice return to the original weeping with further bitter cries and sighing. His breathtaking control and again, those exquisite diminuendi, make his oboe talk [listen -- track 10, 0:00-2:59].

The most noted prophet of Israel, Elijah did not die, but was taken up in a whirlwind, so that imminent return from heaven always seemed somehow plausible. He restored a young boy to life; he was a worker of miracles. The second movement, elijah's mantle is full of harmonics and multiphonics portraying the whirlwind and subtle phrasing, a pride in belief and those who prayed in despair. Together, they weave the textures of a noble faith. Surely the title indicates the necessity for profound self-understanding, the essence of Elijah's inherited mantel, and Matthew Peaceman's set task?

This is followed by shtetl, a remembering of life before, a flooding of memories of what was, what had been. The last note is the giving up of life on this earthly plane with an agonising, dying breath.

abyss/scorched earth is a major work and this is a masterful performance. I recall David Applefield's spellbinding, heart-wrenching book, Once Removed: the juxtaposition of a survivor and a new generation who never knew the shtetl (Mosaic Press, ASN 0-88962-622-7PB).

It opens with a quotation from an anonymous Polish poet.

'No time to be sorry for roses when the forests are burning..'

Applefield's work is in words, what Peaceman's is in music. I cannot draw that parallel with Ovid and Britten.

Why do I feel that such a vast subject here is so well suited to one solitary voice? Was it Elie Wiesel who said, 'The Holocaust was not six million people who died, but one soul who died six million times'? Whoever the originator of this thought, its musical metamorphosis lies in Matthew Peaceman's brilliant composition.

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Copyright © 10 September 2003 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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