This 2-cd set on CPO is chamber music heaven. For me. Perhaps for you too-I think it's high-time to find out. This project is exceptional on all levels really; the artists involved play superbly (I'm sure most of you will know The Vlach Quartet Prague, as well as the clarinetist Dieter Klöcker) and all of the music is well worth getting acquainted with-most of it is truly exceptional I think. All of the composers here have penned works borne from the Jewish experience in one way or another; it's music that you truly "feel" as you listen, even for the very first time. Intimate storytelling by way of the speaking clarinet (a Jewish 'soul' instrument) and the passion of the string quartet, this is music that emotes in every color, music that sings joyously and cries mournfully. It is the joy that prevails here.
Those interested in getting to know Jewish music soon realize the difficulties inherent in such an undertaking. Jewish music is extremely complicated, because in order to understand it one must take into account ethnic, geographical and historical influences, which give rise to numerous musical structures, as well as varied styles. It is also difficult to specify exactly what a Hebrew musical composition is. To this day musicologists have not managed to find an exact definition. As a general rule one can say that a Jewish work is one written by a Jewish composer and which includes musical material from the Jewish folk or religious tradition. Three distinct ethnic groups can be distinguished:
the Ashkenazi from Central and Eastern Europe, the Sephardi of Spanish origin, and the 'oriental' Jews from the Middle East, Yemen and North Africa. Each of these groups has its own particular music. All of the Jewish composers on this recording are Ashkenazi from Eastern Europe. The music of the Ashkenazi is infinitely varied, with different styles for religious and folk music. Its most important characteristics can be summed up:
1) use of a scale without the leading note, and which may contain one or more augmented seconds
2) melodies often comparable to improvisation or recitative, with free rhythm and exuberant ornamentation
3) melodic and rhythmic sequences
4) prominent use of anapestic (a musical foot consisting of two short notes, followed by one long note) rhythmic motives in popular style
The birth of Jewish artistic creation in Eastern Europe took place at the beginning of the 20th century.
This awareness of a specifically Hebrew art came quite naturally, in the wake of other nationalist musical movements that were forming in Europe from the end of the 19th century. In addition, Jewish and intellectual circles in Russia could already take as a model the 'mighty five' who had successfully established Russian classical music from the folklore of their country. In 1908 a 'Society for Jewish Folk Music' whose express aim was to collect, publish, and disseminate ethnic Jewish music was formed in St. Petersburg. Its success was such that branches were organized in other Russian cities. It also encouraged Jewish composers to create art music based on popular and liturgical themes. This new movement excited enormous interest among Jewish composers all over Europe and in the United States.
To be continued...
Enjoy the quintet treasures everyone!