, October 2004
"Mme Madeleine Milhaud, the widow of Darius Milhaud, said of Milhauds Service Sacré that "It is a work of love, it is the voice of a creature communicating with his God ... I hear that when I hear the Service Sacré".
Milhaud was born in Marseilles. He was widely travelled and spent time in London and Brazil amongst many other places. In the Lkha Dodi of the Service Sacré, written many years afterwards, one can hear the influence of Rios street festivals. The surrender by France to the Nazis in 1940 saw Milhaud depart France and move to the USA. There he spent his last 34 years prolifically productive to the last. His final work was Ani Maamin, premiered at the Carnegie Hall in 1975 by the Brooklyn Phil and other forces including the soprano Roberta Peters all conducted by Lukas Foss.
This Naxos CD is the premiere recording of the complete version of the Service Sacré. Naxos have done well by Milhauds memory and the generation of listeners who will now be able to hear this estimable devotional work. The vocal parts, especially the solo here sung by Yaron Windmueller, are more touched with Jewish ethnic accents than the orchestral line; take the Vaanahnu (tr. 16) as an example. The orchestral style is a sort of mélange of Copland (tonal), Roy Harris (listen to Mi Khamokha at tr. 4 and tr. 23), Vaughan Williams (Dona Nobis Pacem), Tippett (A Child of Our Time) and Randall Thompson. It is not tough but neither is it bland. The Vaughan Williams edge can be heard in the barbaric splendour of Su Sharim, the athletic healthy brusqueness of Returning the Scroll to the Ark and the dancing restfulness of Kdusha. Must be coincidence but the explosive version of Mi Khamokha at tr. 23 sounds astonishingly similar to the colossal tectonic upheavals of the Icelandic composer Jón Leifs. At tr. 26 the folk magnificence of the little march gesture points surely towards French pastorals in the composer’s native Provence and further afield to Joseph Canteloube’s Auvergne.
Rabbi Rodney Mariner has an appealing and plaintively reassuring voice in the spoken Kaddish (tr. 18), Prayer and Response (tr. 8) and The Law of the Lord is Perfect (tr. 13). The orchestration around him is perfectly judged by Milhaud and by the Naxos engineers.
This is a work which has the facility to grip your affections. Of course there is at least one other Sacred Service. Bloch’s Avodath Hakodesh is certainly more exotically flavoured but in the various performances I have heard (the composer’s and the one recorded in the late 1970s by Chandos) strikes me as hard-going and not consistently inspired. By contrast Milhaud’s Service Sacré is singable, speaks directly and accessibly to all and is memorable. I wonder whether the proximity of the end of the Second World War also added intensity.
This is very cleanly and athletically recorded ... producing an open impression. The artists are excellent. This should do very well. I happily recommend this disc of a major devotional work.
The Sacred Service is presented with the settings for the Friday evening liturgy, which were composed after the work's commission and premiere at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco."