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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    RENEWAL AND REVITALISATION


A poised rendition of the penitential prayer Avinu Malkeinu introduced the choir's qualities gently, its cohesion, warmth and focus of tone, and clear enunciation, and the blended tone supporting the soloist, here Jason Blair. Also adding fresh colour and zest was the collaboration with Shir, an outstanding klezmer ensemble, and their upbeat, zappy 'Hava Nagila' warmed the audience with spark and panache. One of the musical highlights was Cantor Steve Robins' sweet-toned and relaxed singing of Roitman's Ki Lekach Tov, the prayer recited as the scroll of the law is returned to the ark. The intimate dynamics brought by this experienced leading cantor added exciting expression, matched by some notably high choral singing. Norman Lebrecht, who related how he himself sang enthusiastically in his synagogue choir from the age of five, displayed a soft spot for Yiddish song in his impromptu rendition of a witty American-Yiddish song, Cohen owes me 97 dollars. It formed the ideal introduction to two Yiddish songs, the famous Mamele sung by Cantor Steven Leas, and a tingle factor performance of Papir ist doch vais by the choir.

The climax of the first half was the world première of Joseph Finlay's Eicha, an appropriately accessible yet challenging setting of verses from Lamentations. Finlay's tutelage under Maxwell Davies and as a student of the Royal Academy of Music was displayed in the stylish technique and imaginative textures, such as the opening pedal point piano tremolando, which provided support for the initial choral motif, creating a pitch-bend effect. This powerful gesture led to a syncopated louder section, spiced in the piano with jazzy dissonance. Vivid choral textures recalling Walton's Belshazzar's Feast meandered into jazzy harmonies reminiscent of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. After a lyrical section for the choir, Elliot Alderman sang the tenor solo with arresting presence, joined in duet by Cantor Steve Robins and the choir, with some telling a capella textures, concluding with a moving choral Hashkiveynu, in keeping with the appealing LJMC style. Ingeniously the more complex dissonant textures were assigned to the piano part, played with vigour by Jeremy Limb, which also contained the only traditional synagogue 'trope', that used for Eicha itself, while the choir's role was to develop harmonious textures. The result was the right length, and scale, with the right balance of difficulty and possibility, a worthy fellow to other recent Hebrew Eicha settings, including those by composers such as Simon Bainbridge. Finlay's suave arrangement of the Yiddish song Tumbalalaika ended the first half, adding to the original Yiddish many surprising twists and turns.

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Copyright © 7 December 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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