Is there such a thing as Jewish music? This is a question posed in the programme notes for this afternoon’s concert, not least because all the composers were Jewish. However, perhaps the only explicitly Jewish music was from Klezmer group She’Koyokh (a Yiddish word meaning ‘nice one’!) Their introduction to Mahler’s First Symphony Klez’Mahler is based on Jewish folk music. All the other composers were Jewish and clearly the culture and the religion were important to them. Within this remit, the music itself is widely varied and makes for an enjoyable Sunday afternoon.
The concert begins with Leonard Bernstein’s overture to Candide. This is a perfect opening to a sparkling concert, using the full orchestral power of the sixty-plus players of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the energetic baton of Thomas Dausgaard. The overture begins with a fanfare based on the operetta’s opening number The Best of All Possible Worlds and uses musical themes from the other numbers to give a short vivid opening to the concert.
The concert continues with a cello concerto by Ernest Bloch inspired by King Solomon: Schelomo in Hebrew. Bloch was very clear that his music was inspired by Jewish and Hebrew culture, and he tried to reflect this in the colours of his music. Certainly, the cello concerto is very different from other works composed at that time such as Elgar’s one. However, it is a vivid colourful work which uses the whole range of the cello and often contrasts with quiet periods from the orchestra. The work is superbly played by cellist Jian Wang, who is almost expressionless when he plays, yet exhibits great skill and delicacy in his playing and he is in complete harmony with Dausgaard and the orchestra.
After the interval, the six strong Klezmer Group She’Koyokh, in conjunction with the orchestra, play a ten minute introduction to Mahler’s mighty First Symphony. They take several Jewish folk song themes and blend them in with the orchestra, finally leaving the stage while playing, allowing the orchestra to move seamlessly onto the Mahler. It works pretty well, the Klezmer group showing the distinctive style of the music, although they tend to be drowned out by the full orchestra.
Mahler came from a large Jewish family in Moravia and his first symphony begins with a wonderful quiet introduction based on the sounds of nature he experienced in the forests there. Mahler was also in love with the composer Weber’s wife Marion when he wrote the symphony, so the music is full of colour and passion, particularly in the final movement. Dausgaard is at his most athletic in his conducting of this great symphony, and the BBC SSO play it superbly, and get a great response from the Usher Hall audience.
So, on Friday evening we got a jazz-influenced programme from the RSNO, and today we get a Jewish-influenced classical programme from the BBC SSO. Who said classical music wasn’t diverse?!