JAMES WHITBOURN: ANNELIES

Westminster William Voices, Lincoln Trio, Bharat Chandra (clarinet), Arianna Zuckerman (Soprano), James Jordan (conductor)

Naxos

 

Though concert audiences have been moved by James Whitbourn’s riveting Annelies since its premier in 2005, the towering work has been unavailable on CD. This all changes on January 22, when Naxos finally releases Whitbourn’s monument.

Annelies is the first adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank into a large-scale choral work (with small sections written in Dutch and German), 75 minutes in length, for soprano soloist, choir and instrumentalists. The libretto by Melanie Challenger is a translation and distillation from The Diary of Anne Frank. (Annelies is the full forename of Anne Frank, now commonly referred to by her abbreviated forename, Anne. Although her story had been choreographed for ballet as early as 1959, this is said to be the first authorized musical setting of the diary.)

The first complete performance of this moving work took place in April 2005, with Louise Kateck (soprano), the Clare College Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The U.S. premiere was on April 28, 2007, at Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, NJ. James Jordan and composer James Whitbourn conducted the Westminster Williamson Voices and an instrumental ensemble. The soprano was Lynn Eustis. The world premiere of the completed chamber version was given on June 12, 2009, at the German Church of the Hague, Netherlands.

This Naxos sampler video of January 2013 releases includes an excerpt from James Whitbourn’s Annelies, beginning at 1:07.

Annelies brings to life the diary written by Annelies Marie Frank between 1942 and 1944 when she and her family hid in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse. From the windows, Anne looked up to the beauty of the sky, and downwards to the brutality meted out by the Nazis. The contrasting sights inspired some of the most profound and memorable thoughts in an extraordinary diary, read by millions of people throughout the world.

The instrumental parts exist in two scorings: the larger is for full symphony orchestra while the smaller is for four solo players–clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Although the vocal writing is the same in both versions, the work can successfully be performed by a small chamber choir or by a large chorus. The chamber version has a few minor cuts.

Annelies is composed in fourteen movements.

1. Introit–prelude (instrumental)

2. The capture foretold

3. The plan to go into hiding

4. The last night at home and arrival at the Annexe

5. Life in hiding

6. Courage

7. Fear of capture and the second break-in

8. Sinfonia (Kyrie)

9. The Dream

10. Devastation of the outside world

11. Passing of time

12. The hope of liberation and a spring awakening

13. The capture and the concentration camp

14. Anne’s meditation

Written by Frank over a period of two years, while her family lived in secret rooms atop her father’s office building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the diary puts a very human face on the destruction wrought by Hitler’s Final Solution.

Frank began her diary two days after her 13th birthday. The last entry is dated Aug. 1, 1944. On the morning of Aug. 4, the rooms were stormed and the Franks deported. The identity of their betrayer has never been discovered.

Her mother perished of starvation at Auschwitz. Fifteen-year-old Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen.

Her father, separated from the family at Auschwitz, miraculously survived. After the war, he was given the diary and associated papers by Miep Gies, one of the employees in the building who had aided the family in their seclusion. She had collected the papers from the ransacked apartment in the hope of one day returning them to Anne.

It was while in hiding that Anne had heard a radio broadcast from London. Gerrit Bolkestein, a representative of the Dutch government-in-exile, stated that after the war he would be collecting evidence, in the form of written documentation, of the oppression the Dutch people suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Anne, who by this time aspired to be a writer, set about revising portions of her diary for publication.

Whitbourn’s key players in the recorded version of Annelies all bring sterling resumes to the project.

Soprano Arianna Zukerman sang in the world premiere performance of the final chamber orchestra version of Annelies, with its instrumentation of clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

Arianna Zukerman, Bach’s “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep May Safely Graze”)

Zukerman is the daughter of celebrated violinist, violist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman and flutist and television correspondent Eugenia Zukerman. Arianna’s operatic repertoire ranges from Handel to Mark Adamo. Her recording of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul is the work’s first. Menotti was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the piece, his first full-length opera, in 1950.

Clarinetist Bharat Chanda is the son of the late Indian poet G. S. Sharat Chandra, a Pulitzer Prize nominee for poetry and short fiction, and Jane Chandra, of German-English descent who is a school teacher and role model for his family. Bharat’s two sisters, Shali Wade and Anji Chandra, are marketing and design professionals in their communities, and his wife, Anne, is an accomplished violinist and member of the Sarasota Orchestra. Anne and Bharat are Founders of the KAETA Corporation which is now active in the Sarasota, Florida, community.

Bharat Chanda

Chanda began his professional career in Sarasota during 2001, serving as Principal Clarinetist of the Sarasota Orchestra, under the direction of Leif Bjaland, and as a member of the Sarasota Wind Quintet. He continues to hold those positions today. The Quintet is a resident ensemble of the S.O., and in the spring of 2008 it presented the world premiere performance of David Maslanka’s Quintet No. 4 for Winds, which was commissioned for the group.

During the summer, he serves as Principal Clarinetist with the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz, led by Marin Alsop. In August of 2008, Bharat gave the U.S. premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s clarinet concerto, Riffs and Refrains, with Alsop and the Festival Orchestra. His performance earned unanimous critical acclaim.

Other solo performances have taken him from Sarasota to Connecticut, and on a multi-city tour of England, after which he was featured on the cover of Winds magazine. In the fall of 2011, Bharat served as a Guest Principal Clarinet at the Sydney Opera House.

The recording also features the Lincoln Trio, a resident chamber ensemble of the Chicago Music Institute comprised of violinst Desirée Ruhstrat, cellist David Cunliffe and pianist Marta Aznavoorian. The group’s 2011 debut album, Notable Women, made up of chamber music by contemporary female composers, earned a Grammy nomination for its producer, Judith Sherman. The album features works by Lera Auerbach, Stacy Garrop, Augusta Read Thomas, Joan Tower and Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon. (Notable Women was a Classical Perspectives selection in the November 2011 issue of TheBluegrassSpecial.com.)

Born August 17, 1963 in Kent and educated at Skinners’ School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a choral scholar and gained a degree in Music, James Whitbourn is a versatile composer with an international reputation for choral music and music for film, television and concert hall. After studying music at Oxford University, he began his career as a BBC producer, winning numerous awards including a Royal Television Society Award and a Sony Gold.

His range of style moves from the lush symphonic scoring heard in the BBC landmark series Son of God (whose seminal themes form his best-known work, Son of God Mass, for choir, saxophone and organ) to the delicate textures of his accompanied choral works.

Whitbourn has been commissioned to compose the music to mark several national and international events, including the BBC’s title music for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and music for the national commemoration of 9/11 at Westminster Abbey–subsequently performed in New York on the first anniversary of the attacks. He also composed music for the BBC Events coverage of the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, the annual commemoration at the Cenotaph and the National Holocaust Memorial to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

1st movement (Lux in tenebris) of James Whitbourn’s 2007 choral work, Luminosity

His choral works have been performed on every inhabited continent of the world, especially the Son of God Mass, which is regularly performed throughout the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. He has a close relationship with Westminster Choir College, New Jersey, who have performed several concerts of his music and who commissioned the large-scale Luminosity. He also has a special relationship with the Choir of King’s College Cambridge with whom he has worked for more than twenty years as producer of Carols from King’s and for whom he composed the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis collegium regale premiered in Easter Day 2005. His orchestral commissions include the award-winning work Pika, based on the bombing of Hiroshima, one of three large-scale compositions for symphony orchestra written with the poet Michael Symmons Roberts and performed by the BBC Philharmonic, who have also recorded many of his television scores. His collaborations with the poet have also resulted in a set of songs written for and recorded by the mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins.

James Whitbourn

Many of his choral works have been recorded by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, with saxophonist John Harle and tenor Robert Tear under Timothy Brown (Et Cetera KTC 1248) and Commotio, with violist Levine Andrade and tenor Christopher Gillett conducted by Matthew Berry (Naxos 8.572103). He is popular on both sides of the Atlantic as choral clinician and also enjoys a profile as a conductor and producer. As well conducting the BBC Philharmonic, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and other leading orchestras, he directs the London-based vocal ensemble The Choir, whose acclaimed DVD recording of John Tavener’s choral music received a Gramophone nomination. (Source: Biography posted at G. Schirmer Inc.)

Whitbourn’s music for this work has been described as “woundingly beautiful” (The Daily Telegraph). He reflects sounds of the Westerkerk bells and tunes heard on the radio in the Annex, along with representations of Anne Frank’s Jewish and German heritage, details that add to a score “whose respectful understatement is its greatest strength” (The Times of London).

Reviewing the chamber version of Annelies performed by the Key Chorale in Sarasota, Florida, in the local Herald-Tribune on November 9, 2010, a critic identified only as “David” found much to praise.

While we know the narrative, it is Anne’s voice, no, poetry, that is so touching. With a voice that easily conveyed the innocence amid increasingly worldly worries, soprano soloist Kathy Pyeatt was most impressive in her portrayal of the character through tone, expression and even her presence on stage when not singing.

Chorus and soloist seamlessly passed the text between them as the story was laid out in 14 movements. At times a capella, without accompaniment, and in spoken words, whispered or screamed, the results were effective some moments more than others. It strikes one as an exceptionally challenging score for singers and given that, the singers in the chorus, ably led by conductor Joseph Caulkins, were exceptional in this performance.

 

The composer, James Whitbourn, captured a range of impressions in his score with stylistic diversity. It seems than only on occasion was there a recognizable recurring melody or development of ideas. Rather the music unfolded in a stream of consciousness doubling back on itself briefly for emphasis, lingering in a pattern, often for great effect, before moving on, much like a diary.

Originally set for soprano soloist, chorus and full orchestra, one does not feel cheated by the chamber version performed here with accompaniment by pianist Nancy Yost Olson, violinist Daniel Jordan, clarinetist Bharat Chandra, and cellist Abraham Feder. Whitbourn’s efficient use of these instruments to add emotional color as well as harmonic support is notable.

If not previously aware of this fact, with this work, one is convinced that young Annelies was a talented poet. While not consistent in this achievement, there were several spots where the setting of her words to music were quite breathtaking. Warm countermelodies in the violin, melancholy and comfort from the cello, keening wails from the clarinet amplified, “We’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, a thousand obligations.”

The deliciously hopeful theme of Annelies’ blue sky, and the highlight of this work, is introduced to a dreamy klezmer-infused waltz and concludes in the final melancholy meditation, “As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know you’re pure within.”

Thus the first important recording of 2013, available everywhere on January 22.