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Mark Glanville's sequence of songs is designed to suggest an emotional journey of the wedding singer, a symbol of the Jews of central and Eastern Europe, during the Holocaust, as he leaves his Shtetl, one of the villages of Poland or the Russian Pale of Settlement, and witnesses the destruction of the culture in which he was nurtured. If the general imagery of the betrayed lover was apt to represent the feelings of a betrayed Jewish people wandering in the hostile desert of the Holocaust, that connection was underlined all the more poignantly in the quotation of one of the songs of Der Winterreise, 'Der Lindenbaum', sung in a remarkable Yiddish translation. Here the tree offers rest and peace, but for the restless, vulnerable poet, it is just an illusion, a wisp of happier memory. Yet there is a note of hope in the specific 'translated' narrative of Der Yiddishe Winterreise, which closes with four songs about childhood, reflecting memories of innocence and joy, the peace of sleep and divine rest. The poignantly poetic final song, 'A Malekh vert Geboyrn' ('An Angel is Born'), suggests survival, both of the Jewish people and of the spirit of humanity in general, through the prayers of a new generation.
Overall it was a musically mezmerizing and beguiling experience. Glanville's powerful resonant baritone, redolent of years of experience in leading opera companies such as Opera North, Scottish Opera, and New Israeli Opera, gained in focus and intensity during the course of the cycle, while Knapp's accomplished pianism displayed masterly command of colour and line. One of the intriguing aspects of the cycle was how some of the very familiar Yiddish songs took on new meanings and moods, due to their place within the twenty-four song sequence, to Glanville's intensity of characterisation, and to the evocative expression of nine new arrangements by Alexander Knapp, in which surprising harmonies mapped the mood inflections of the texts with subtlety, enhancing the melodies with colour and shade. Knapp, a scholar and composer who has also published attractive arrangements of Ladino songs, painted anew each verse of the slow expressive 'Oyfn Pripitchek', its Verdian piano preamble followed by meandering textures and chromatic chords reminiscent of Brahms or Busoni. 'Rozhinkes mit Mandeln', one of the most popular Yiddish lullabies, had a fresh mood of elusive warmth, while the simple dance refrain of 'Tumbalalayka' returned repeatedly spiced with unpredictable modulations, emphasising the jaunty sense of mystery. Finally the jolly 'Rabbi Elimelech' was subject to vivid variations, from sinewy and slow to folk like cimbalom imitations and spiky ironic marches, moments of jumpy comedy leading to a rhapsodic climax.
Copyright © 7 February 2007
Malcolm Miller, London UK