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Hyperion Records

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The Violin Composition by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926)
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67841
Recording details: March 2009
Jerusalem Music Centre, Israel
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: March 2012
Total duration: 6 minutes 36 seconds

'Shaham and Erez deliver outstandingly committed performances, revelling in the music's virtuosity, fantasy and heightened intensity of expression' (BBC Music Magazine)

Stempenyu Suite
1918, for Sholem Aleichem's Stempenyu; suite for violin and piano made in 1930

Stempenyu plays  [2'07]
Scher  [1'41]
Freilachs  [2'48]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In 1924 Achron toured Palestine, performing widely and transcribing traditional oriental Jewish melodies which influenced the works he composed in the USA, where he moved in 1925 (he became an American citizen in 1930), following his brother Isidor, a pianist-composer who had settled there in 1922 as accompanist to Heifetz. He settled first in New York, where he composed his Violin Concerto No 1 (1926), which uses a Yemenite song, as well as providing incidental music for the thriving Yiddish theatre. This included both the masterly Golem suite, introduced by Fritz Reiner at the 1932 Venice ISCM, and music for a 1929 production of Sholem Aleichem’s Stempenyu. The latter had been originally composed in 1918 for the Petrograd Jewish Chamber Theatre, and in 1930, following the New York production, was arranged by the composer as a suite for violin and piano. Stempenyu, originally a novel and later adapted by its author as a play titled Jewish Daughters, relates the story of a klezmer fiddler in a small Jewish village (or ‘shtetl’) in Russia, whose virtuosity attracts the attentions of a young (married) woman. The play is full of realistic dialect, complemented by Achron’s use of traditional klezmer dances.

The three pieces of the Stempenyu Suite show Achron’s creative response to the klezmer folk tradition, transforming simple melodies through artful harmonies and textures. Stempenyu plays introduces the hero’s fervent style through a richly eloquent tune, etched over gentle chords, and repeated an octave higher with ornamentation that recalls the vocal improvisation of a synagogue cantor, yet coloured with modal harmony. Scher and Freilachs are lively dances (‘freylach’ is the Yiddish for ‘happy’). In Scher Achron retains the folkish quality of the melody, especially its traditional modal cadence and simple accompaniment. The repeat of the initial phrase is followed by a second phrase which reaches ever higher, over a newly flowing piano texture. The final return of the initial phrase is freshly garbed, again at a higher octave, with polytonal harmonies and bell-like harmonics. The Suite concludes with the zestful, highly syncopated Freilachs, which appears to convey Stempenyu’s almost hysterical wizardy. Achron exploits some violinistic resources like pizzicato strumming at the start, and the music develops into an increasingly energetic dance, enlivened by a recurrent, leaping motif. Once again a repeat of the opening an octave higher leads to a frenetic coda.

from notes by Malcolm Miller © 2012

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