SRUL GLICK – Meditations on Jewish Themes

Canadian Contemporary composer Srul Irving Glick [1934–2002] wrote two numbered string quartets and several named quartet pieces. I am going to discuss a themed CD containing exclusively named works, which seem to be motivated by his Jewish faith. This is probably going to be the first review of several CDs performed by the Penderecki String Quartet, an ensemble that has recently come to my notice.

Firstly, two short, named pieces.

Nigun features a searing (for Glick) solo violin statement that is very evocative. The melody moves from a lament into a dance for a moment and the use of ethnic scales is stunning as the violin reaches for the sky, before dropping back to conclude on a sustained tone. This note is then followed by a fascinating shrill note that is quite unexpected, but makes for a magical impression.

Cantorial Chant evokes John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil and is another solo violin piece. Slowly a sense of drama unfolds as the tone of the instrument is magnificent. A pause allows the composer to collect his thoughts and the music follows in a lower register, which leads to a passionate episode, then a peaceful conclusion.

From out of the Depths is in six named movements.

Mi Maamakim opens with a gently pulsing ensemble background, overlaid with a lamenting, harmonised violin melody. The harmonies are very simple and the peaceful mood is sustained for the duration. This is most reflective music.

Eileh Ezkarah again, has a pulsing introduction. This time the changes are not in the melodies but are embedded in the harmonic accompaniment, a bit like Philip Glass. Now a solo violin reaches out to drift across the composer’s canvas. It ebbs and flows before returning to the ensemble for a precious ending.

Yosheiv B’seiter begins with a lamenting, soulful violin melody to the sounds of a drone in the background. The violin becomes quite spirited for a time until it returns to a sparsity, and concludes this brief movement.

Ani Maamin is the longest movement. Simple harmonies support a slow violin duet, sometimes with a quivering of the bows on strings. Once more the violins lament, with one achieving a shrill tone as it expresses a powerful, but muted melody. A pause leads to a drop in intensity and the violins move through a simple harmonic background with sustained melodic lines. Near the end, one violin reaches out, and upwards, leading to a sustained final chord. This movement is a marvellous piece of introspective writing.

Azoy Fil Mol starts with an almost stately character. Its major tonality provides a relief from the previous sombre sounds. I wouldn’t call it joyful either, but there is a sense of hope in these finely harmonised melodic lines. Now the music warms even further with a strong, positive character and eventually, a sustained chord to finish.

Yizkor opens with a touch of an ethnic sound to the scales used, the first time I have encountered this in the work. The characteristic simple harmonies prevail, and the melodies reflect this. There are strong musical statements with the blend of two violin lines being most attractive. The work concludes with a faded, gentle moment.

If this music doesn’t sound very active, it is because the pieces are essentially quite introspective. Interestingly, I didn’t hear much of what I would have expected from a Jewish composer – ethnic sounding melodies, except for a fleeting moment in the final movement.

The review CD, titled Spiritual Reflections – Meditations in Preparation for S’Lichot on the S & S Productions label also contains two other substantial named works, namely Days of Awe – Suites Nos. 1 and 2. They have the same spiritual connotations as those discussed. I only had a brief listen to the two numbered quartets but they seem to have less of a Jewish nature, and more of the traditional.

Finally, this is the first time that I have discussed two performances of the same work. I previously encountered From out of the Depths on the compilation Hidden Treasures by the Saint John Quartet, which lists the movement names in English.

Unfortunately, this CD is available only as an MP3 download from Amazon US and UK.

The CD is on Spotify, and there are several works on earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Very peaceful, introspective quartet works.


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