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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely - but more Schindler's List than Quartet for the End of Time, 23 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Whitbourn: Annelies (Westminster William Voices, Lincoln Trio) (Naxos: 8573070) (Audio CD)
This new cantata is very much not what I expected from a musical setting of the diary of Anne Frank. Perhaps the 'nice synergy' (quote from composer's notes) of the instrumental scoring matching that of Messiaen's ethereal, difficult Quartet for the End of Time (composed and premiered in a POW camp) is a coincidence best ignored, and buyers should be more of the Karl Jenkins's The Armed Man persuasion than expecting any of the gritty avant-garde European classical music of the mid-20th century. Instead the libretto aims to do justice to Anne's penetrating insight and understanding to create 'a sequence of beautiful, spiritually charged texts', and this textual material combines with a melodic style that, with its Jewish inflections, often recalls John Williams's score for Schindler's List, particularly in the clarinet and violin writing.

The recording is good. Balancing a 50-strong choir with one soprano and four solo instruments is generally achieved well; if anything, the choir sometimes feels a little too distant, but this is made up for by their excellent diction and the word-setting which, if often predictable in its rhythms, is consistently intelligible. The ambience is generally intimate rather than reverberate, which reflects the general compositional ethic of lyricism over aggression or immensity. The soprano soloist (Arianna Zukerman), has the perfect voice for the part: rich and true, but not too mature to voice the thoughts of a teenage girl.

My main problem is that I find claims of despair and tragedy in other reviews to be just too much. It was just never very difficult to listen to. The choral setting is almost (if not all) homophonic with a bit too much oohing and aahing for my taste, although there are a few Tavener-esque moments which are more visceral. The dramatic moments are there, for instance in 'Devastation of the outside world', but with harrowing texts like 'Let me out where there's fresh air and laughter / Let me out, a voice within me cries / Let me out!' I found myself wanting it to be just much more heartrending, more painful. Instead it is often melancholy, sometimes predictable and crosses the boundary into trite just occasionally: the words 'This is D-Day' set to a repetitive dum-de-dum-dum rhythm (`The hope of liberation and a spring awakening') was the most striking example, almost making me laugh out loud. (The music is sometimes a bit fragmentary, and later in the same movement is some beautiful Schubertian writing performed with real clarity and style by both instrumentalists and well-trained choir.)

'Courage' struck me as something quite different. Skilful instrumental and vocal solos float over a choral background of traditional German chorale texts. Along with 'Anne's Meditation', which closes the work (and is my favourite movement), it is a rare track on the CD in that I can imagine it standing alone as a concert piece. Perhaps the strongest sections, then, are those that avoid directly facing the horrors of wartime and set the poetic and often poignant texts of a young girl with some beautifully lyrical melodies to create an intimate, melancholic and spiritual atmosphere.

I was expecting a difficult listening experience, and perhaps the best way to put it is that - most unexpectedly given the subject - this is a disc I might put on in the background, as it never turns morbid, acidic or violent enough to offend a passive listener. For me it was just a bit too much like a film score given the subject matter, but I'm glad to have it in my collection.
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