Whitbourn: Annelies

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: James Whitbourn
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Whitbourn: Annelies
WORKS: Annelies (2009 Chamber Version)
PERFORMER: Arianna Zukerman (soprano); Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello), Marta Aznavoorian (piano), Bharat Chandra (clarinet); Westminster Williamson Voices; The Lincoln Trio/James Jordan
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573070

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‘The first major choral setting of The Diary of Anne Frank.’ That’s emblazoned on the booklet cover, and it made me wonder why nobody had tried to set the diary in that fashion earlier. The answer is apparent when you start listening to Annelies – it isn’t easy adding anything terribly significant musically to a text already heavy with emotional significance and accumulated cultural baggage.

James Whitbourn does achieve many striking moments in the 14 individual sections. The writing for soprano soloist (the ripe-toned if occasionally quivery Arianna Zukerman), choir and skeletal piano accompaniment in ‘Life in Hiding’ is hauntingly effective. Whitbourn’s loving imitation of Bachian chorale in ‘Courage’, and the poignant lyrical intertwining of voices and instruments in ‘Kyrie-Sinfonia’, are other moments when words and music meld impressively together.

Where Whitbourn reacts to the text in more explicitly theatrical fashion, Annelies is less convincing. The slicing, recitative-like approach in ‘Fear of capture’, the appropriation of dirge-like plainsong in ‘Devastation of the outside world’, and the baleful chanting of ‘This is D-day’ at the beginning of ‘The hope of liberation’, skirt cliché and predictability rather closely. The performance as a whole, however, is well prepared and palpably committed, as befits a premiere recording.

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Terry Blain