Lindberg / Golijov - Jonason / Lindberg
Classical - Orchestral
Lindberg: The Erratic Dreams of Mr Grönstedt
Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for klezmer clarinet and string quartet
Emil Jonason (clarinet)
Norrköping Symphony Orchestra
Christian Lindberg (conductor)
Review by Mark Werlin - April 3, 2020
Dreams granted by the Spirit — and induced by distilled spirits — are the subjects of this program of contemporary clarinet concertos performed by Swedish virtuoso Emil Jonason and composer-conductor Christian Lindberg.
In the past two centuries, the range and expressive character of the clarinet and its mastery by prominent musicians prompted the composition of clarinet concertos and chamber works, expanded the tone color palette of orchestra woodwind sections, and led to the primacy of the instrument among the itinerant Jewish musical ensembles of central and eastern Europe known as klezmorim.
The word "klezmer" is derived from the Hebrew words for instrument, and music or song. From the 13th through the early 20th centuries, klezmorim travelled to Jewish communities to perform at the celebrations of births, weddings and funerals. Melodies and dance forms borrowed from neighboring cultures entered into Jewish music; virtuosos of the violin, cimbalom, trumpet and clarinet incorporated these influences into the evolving musical corpus that had originated as an instrumental expression of cantorial melodies and wordless prayers.
Interest in klezmer music by younger, non-Jewish European musicians in the 1970s through the early years of the current century stemmed in part from curiosity about the traditional Jewish communities that were erased from the cultural record in the Holocaust. In more recent years there has been a decline in performances of klezmer music in Europe by Jewish and non-Jewish musicians alike. In such circumstances, the appearance of this recording is all the more remarkable. The juxtaposition of the Golijov piece against conductor Lindberg‘s own work recontextualizes the music as a vehicle for instrumental expression, and a framework for exploring the theme of dreams and intoxication.
Argentine-Romanian composer Osvaldo Goljiv’s "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind", inspired by the writings of the great kabbalist rabbi of Provence, received considerable attention on the release of the 1997 Kronos Quartet recording with clarinetist David Krakauer. But since then, only a few more recordings of the work have been made. A DSD recording of the piece, performed by Krakauer with the Boston-based classical ensemble A Far Cry, is available as a download through the ensemble's own website.
Soloist Jonason and conductor Lindberg bring an astringent sensibility to "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind". Brisk tempos, incisive bowing by the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra's string section, ably led by violinist Jannika Gustafson, emphasize the modernist strains of the work.
Jonason’s experience as a teenager playing in klezmer groups informs his performance with a technical grasp of the idiom, yet he fails to come face to face with its cultural origins. The cantorial melodies in the third movement "K’vakarat" are phrased with clarity and delicacy, but almost entirely without the characteristic voice-like ornamentation that, in Krakauer's performance, conveys the spiritual depth of Isaac's devotional prayer.
Jonason's restraint might reflect a preference to stay closer to the written score and not to attempt — or appropriate — the traditional sound of cantillation; but it's a choice that pulls the work out of its historical soil and doesn't communicate the rough spontaneity of klezmer music that inspired Golijov to write the piece.
Christian Lindberg's composition "The Erratic Dreams of Mr. Grönstedt" is structured as six episodic segments that flow directly one into the next. The dramatic changes in tone and tempo mirror the discontinuous sequence of dreams, and this form allows for self-contained “set pieces“ of evocative and unashamedly neo-romantic orchestral writing.
Lindberg provides soloist Jonason a framework for exploring the full range of the instrument. Whether evoking the sound of a half-remembered folk melody, or echoing the call of a morning bird, Jonason displays dazzling technical skill; the cadenza that opens the sixth segment of the work is a bravura display of overtone blowing and rapid fire runs to the high notes of the instrument. Whether or not Lindberg is pulling our leg with his claim that the piece was composed under the influence of Grönstedts cognac, many listeners will feel drawn to imbibe something appropriate to the occasion while enjoying this musical romp.
A detailed 24/96 recording from Take 5 producer Jens Braun and engineer Matthias Spitzbarth shows off "The Erratic Dreams of Mr. Grönstedt" in vivid sonics. Paired with Osvaldo Golijov's more somber work, the program thoughtfully balances the secular with the sacred.
Copyright © 2020 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net