Tuesday, 4 December 2012

CD review - Cantata for the Children of Terezin

Mary Ann Joyce-Walter's Cantata for the Children of Terezin sets poems written by the children who were incarcerated in the Terezin concentration camp. Joyce-Walter says that the work was composed with the intention of evoking compassion for the most innocent and vulnerable. This disc on the  Ravello label includes the cantata as well as Joyce-Walter's orchestra piece Aceldama, recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra and the King Singers of Kiev conducted by Robert Ian Winstin.


The cantata opens with an orchestra introduction, Transports 5.30am, which arises out of fragments of Smetana's The Moldau. Then there are six settings of short poems written by the children of Terezin, after which the opening instrumental movement returns somewhat modified, now Evening Transports. Finally there is a setting of a longer poem, Someday, intended to evoke hope, ending on fragments of The Moldau again.

The Moldau is there because Joyce-Walter feels that the children would have been familiar with the river. Her music for the opening movement is dark, filmic and chromatic. The six poems, set in English, are for choir and orchestra plus solo soprano, Oxnaya Oleskaya. The performers are from Kiev and their English is very creditable,though their diction is at times occluded.

Joyce-Water has written a work which is clearly deeply felt, but she has chosen to set the children's words using melodies which evoke childhood and childishness, but have them sung by adults. The result treads that fine line between innocence and naivety, being child-like and childishness.

A similar work which avoids this trap is Helen Chadwick's Towards an unknown port, which also sets poems written for the children of Terezin and was written for English Touring Opera and performed by an ensemble of children (see my review). It avoids the trap partly because it is written for and sung by children.

Joyce-Walter's cantata is, at its best, an elegant lament which feels poised; there are few moments were we really feel the knife turn, though the end of the seventh movement, The Rose, comes very close. The soprano soloist, Oxnaya Oleskaya. has a beautiful clear voice which rises above the choir at various times.  Joyce-Walter has also introduced the text, A Voice in Rama: Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more, which is often sung by the soloist.

The final movement sets quite a long poem with some interesting complexity, then finally a sort of unison hymn develops which is clearly meant to be uplifting. The effect of ending with fragments of The Moldau means that the piece has a slightly unfinished quality, as if it goes on for ever.

The title of the other piece on the disc, Aceldama, means Field of Blood in Aramaic and refers to the field that was purchased with the 30 pieces of silver that were paid to Judas. Joyce-Walter uses it as a metaphor for the various fields of blood in the present day. Over a dark string texture a lone flute plays a long lament. The piece gets quite savage at times and altogether shows a darker, edgier side to Joyce-Walter's work.

The CD booklet includes texts and a short programme note, but the disc has extra elements if put in your PC, with a copy of the score and extended programme notes

This is an enterprising disc which contains two works which deal with emotive and difficult subjects. Joyce-Walter shows that the path of an artist isn't always to take the easy route.

Mary Ann JOYCE-WALTER -Cantata for the Children of Terezin [37:21]
Mary Ann JOYCE-WALTER - Aceldama [13.17]
OOxnaya Oleskaya (soprano)
King Singers of Kiev
Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra
Robert Ian Winstin

Recorded 2007 at the National Radio Studio of Kiev, Ukraine
RAVELLO RR7845 1CD [50:38]

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