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James WHITBOURN (b.1963)
Annelies - Chamber Version (2009)
Arianna Zuckerman (soprano), The Lincoln Trio (Desirée Ruhstrat (violin), David Cunliffe (cello), Marta Aznavoorian (piano)), Bharat Chandra (clarinet), Westminster Williamson Voices/James Jordan
rec. Princeton Meadow Church, New Jersey, USA, 14-16 May 2012.
World Première Recording.
NAXOS 8.573070 [69:53]

“It is easy to write music for a broad audience but it is harder to do so when it also has depth and substance”, so wrote the composer James Whitbourn. It must therefore have been especially demanding when he came to write Annelies. This was following a recommendation from the Jewish Music Institute in Britain (part of London University) to the librettist Melanie Challenger who had asked them whom she might approach. She had realised the power of music as a restorative force while working in Bosnia and turned to Anne Frank’s diary as a source for a musical work. She set about creating a workable text after receiving the blessing of Anne’s surviving relatives. This was complemented by James Whitbourn’s commitment to the project.
Anne Frank has become a kind of metaphor or shorthand for representing the holocaust and, indeed, all needless destruction of human life caused by Man’s brutal excesses. For this libretto Melanie Challenger has taken 14 passages from throughout the diary and where necessary has changed the word order but has kept the essential sense of each episode. What emerges is an extremely powerful work which “stops you in your tracks” as Whitbourn confessed when hearing Anne’s cousin Bernd Elias say how happy she’d have been to have heard it - as happy as he remembered her when last he saw her. This is because, as Whitbourn says, it’s easy to forget she was a real person and not a literary figure. After all, had she lived, she would still be younger than Queen Elizabeth II, whose portrait Anne had pinned up in their tiny sanctuary. Indeed after the very incident that gives rise to the second section The Capture Foretold Anne wrote in her diary “If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard. I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind!” Though she did not live her diary ensured her voice was heard. To tens of millions she remains a beacon in a dark world; a representative of the inherent good in people.
It will not be lost on listeners that this chamber version of the choral setting uses piano, violin, cello and clarinet, the instruments that Messiaen used for his Quartet for the end of time, these being the only ones available in the prisoner of war camp in which he was incarcerated. As Whitbourn says they are instruments associated with Jewish culture and despite the fact that he made no overt attempt to incorporate Jewish melodies he did draw on their “melodic contours and expressions”. The clarinet is a particular help in this regard. The music so perfectly fits the words that there is never any feeling of a shoehorning of either.
The whole work flows quite brilliantly. Just as with Anne there is light as well as sadness throughout and moments of humour as in part of section 5, Life in hiding. To a tune with origins in It’s a long, long way to Tipperary Anne tells of scrubbing themselves in a tin bath in the dark as the curtains are drawn and the lights out. Then bringing things back to earth she sings “One day this terrible war will be over, and we’ll be people again, and not just Jews.” There are moments when the singing reminded me of medieval chants and that worked extremely effectively, particularly at moments of great sadness. Examples can be found in section 10 Devastation of the outside world that describes the bombing of Amsterdam in July 1943 or section 13 that tells of the capture of Anne and the others in the annexe.
Not having heard the full orchestral version I can only say that this chamber version seems so apt with a spare feel to it that so accurately mirrors the poignancy. There is such fantastic musicality that when the voices are unaccompanied one is unaware that there are no instruments playing. Arianna Zuckerman has a perfect voice for the role of Anne as it has a bell-like clarity and a kind of youthful vulnerability that makes everything so incredibly heartrending. The Westminster Williamson Voices are wonderfully eloquent. Every word can be followed without recourse to the text which is printed in full in the booklet and which has an extremely informative essay about the work by the composer. The four instrumentalists are superb in creating a wonderfully evocative canvas on which this amazing work unfolds. This is an extremely important addition to the corpus of material connected with Anne Frank and, by association, the whole of holocaust literature. It demands to be heard and enjoyed in its own right and as a tribute to a brave young girl who just wanted to be allowed to live. It is an emotional journey but one that will leave the listener both moved and proud of her legacy. To quote her “The weak shall fall and the strong shall survive and not be defeated!” Her diary and all that has flowed from it as a result show the truth in that. This choral work is another component.
Steve Arloff