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Especially Dramatic

Premières by Sheriff and McCabe,
reviewed by MALCOLM MILLER


A recipe for an inspiring concert: '... take two premières, intermingled with two choral masterpieces composed a quarter of a millennium apart. Stir in an aesthetic and spiritual message of hope for peace. Sprinkle with invigorating orchestral spice and zestful singing; mix together with a dynamic conductor, and the result is a memorable, landmark event.'

Such was the concert at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 10 January 2007, given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Stephen Sloane, in a programme which imaginatively balanced a première and choral masterpiece in each half. The introductory work was the moving, lyrical Akedah ('The Sacrifice of Isaac'), Passacaglia for orchestra by one of the foremost composers in Israel, Noam Sheriff, which received its thrilling first UK performance a decade after its composition. Sheriff, also a leading conductor in Israel, has composed several large scale orchestral and choral works based on Jewish topics such as the Holocaust memorial Mehaye Hametim, Psalms for Jerusalem for the biblical city's 3000th anniversary, and A Sephardic Passion, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jewish exile from Spain. Akedah, through its single movement span, traces the peaks of intensity of some of his much larger works and shows a similar contemporary relevance, its biblical theme interpreted as a memorial for Yizhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister assassinated in 1995 who was, for Sheriff, a sacrificial offering 'on the altar of peace'.

The choice of 'passacaglia' form is apt, both since it was originally a funereal dance, and because the Baroque, disciplined form, a repetition of a theme 'ever-present' while the music evolves a dramatic arc, serves to contain the extremes of emotion traced across all the variations. While the use of a Baroque form offers a path to a higher expression, Sheriff's postmodernism is also expressed in his use of quotations of past musics, here a striking Renaissance allusion to a madrigal by Gesualdo, 'moro lasso', quoted after the main climax. It is both musically poignant and a cryptic glance at the Genovese theatre that commissioned Sheriff's work, since the madrigal was published in Genoa in 1613, two years after its composition.

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Copyright © 15 January 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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