Music on Jewish Themes – Northern Chords at St Andrew’s Church in Corbridge on 29th May 2014

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Corbridge church was packed out for this concert as part of the Northern Chords festival. It got off to a mesmerising start with a short improvisation on the clarinet by David Orlowsky. Starting in the middle of the church with his eyes closed in an almost hypnotised state, Orlowsky advanced down the aisle leaving the audience holding their breath as his instrument sang a Klezmer-inspired lament.

This set the bar for the rest of the concert, which did not disappoint. The programme included works by Bloch, Hindemith and Bruch, to name the more well-known composers, and the Jewish theme of the concert led to interesting comparisons between the works. Most of the pieces in the concert were performed by a solo instrument with or without accompaniment by ‘Festival Strings’ (a string group, 4-6 in number, of other players from the week).

Of particular joy was Bloch’s Nigun, taken from Baal Shem: 3 Pictures of Hassidic Life (1939), in which Benjamin Baker soared on the violin above a well-balanced string trio. It felt a privilege to hear all of these younger musicians starting their careers perform to such a high professional standard. Another piece by Bloch (Prayer, From Jewish Life) shone later on, played beautifully by Gabriel Schwabe, Cello, and Omri Epstein, Piano. The piano complemented the cello in its tone and feeling in the melancholy and heartfelt work. Afterwards the prolonged moment of silence truly revealed the audience’s appreciation.

After the interval we were treated to an unusual work for clarinet and string quartet with soloist David Orlowsky – Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994). The Argentinian composer, born of Romanian Jewish parents in 1960, draws on the Klezmer tradition and modern classical styles, creating a work that is both extremely passionate and experimental. The bows of the quartet glanced across the strings in the Prelude, which gave an unnatural sound underneath the rising scale of the clarinet. Orlowsky made expert use of the Bass Clarinet in later movements, drawing notes from it that barely seemed possible. The experimental passages of the work are interspersed with frantic dance sections, giving the string players a chance to be percussive and rhythmic. But the star of the show was clearly Orlowsky, whose gentle tone morphed into a boisterous Jewish clarinet sound and back again with ease.

We left stunned, unable to listen to any other music on the journey home – surely the mark of an outstanding concert.

Reviewer: Katie Lodge

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