WORKS: Yiddishbbuk; Last Round; Lullaby and Doina; The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind
PERFORMER: St Lawrence Quartet, Ying Quartet; Todd Palmer (clarinet), Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Mark Dresser (double bass)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57356 2
The Argentinian-born composer Osvaldo Golijov has certainly been making considerable waves since the triumphant success of his St Mark Passion. On the evidence of this fascinating disc it’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. Evidently Golijov has an uncanny ability to express his ideas in the most forthright manner, and the performances from clarinettist Todd Palmer and the St Lawrence String Quartet are simply dazzling.
Although drawing on a wide array of musical influences, from heightened and fragmentary expressionism to the folk-inflected melodies and rhythms of Latin America and klezmer, the unifying factor in Golijov’s work is its strong Jewish identity. While the music’s sustained full-frontal impact can become almost too wearing, in short pieces such as Last Round (a kind of ‘sublimated tango’, written in memory of Piazzolla), the effect is unquestionably striking. More challenging is the Yiddishbbuk for string quartet, where Golijov pays homage to the victims of the Terezín concentration camp in sombre music that contrasts sounds akin to strangled death cries with mysterious and eerie tremolos. After this, the constant fluctuation between meditative writing and the raucous wild Jewish dances in The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind seems to test the listener’s endurance, though the total commitment of the playing is never in doubt. Erik Levi