, October 2004
"Joseph Achron is a fascinating figure. He was born in what was then Russian Lithuania into a well off middle class family where the father was an amateur cantor. He studied with Maximilian Steinberg (whose five symphonies DG and Neeme Järvi are steadily recording). Scriabin had some influence on Achron and on Scriabins death Achron wrote an Epitaph in his memory. He was a phenomenal violinist from a very young age and toured widely. During the Great War he served with the Russian Imperial Army. In 1922 he moved to Berlin. He was inspired by musical experiences encountered while on a trip to Palestine in 1925. He went to the USA in 1925. After years in Chicago and NY he moved to Los Angeles in 1934 where he formed part of that group of sunset émigrés including Zeisl, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Toch, Schoenberg and Piatigorsky. Achrons orchestral music has a Hollywood-like lushness although his attempts to break into the world of film music came to very little.
Achrons First Violin Concerto is from his New York stay having been written in 1925. It is thunderously and clawingly rhapsodic (I, 21:09), swayingly intense, with an ululating Jewish flavour. This is mixed with romance lushly vibrating between Barber, Delius and Korngold. It is perhaps a case of Blochs Violin Concerto on Hollywood steroids but long before received cinematic conventions had been formed. Contemporary critics referred to its "Dionysian imbalanced exaltation ... from restless, mysterious meditation of strongly religious character to dizzying Dervish-like ecstasy".
Elmar Oliveira is the ideal soloist in the Achron well able to mobilise a swooning tone and every bit the master of the technical dimension. The work is at its strongest in the last ten minutes of the big first movement; there are only two and the first lasts almost 25 minutes. It was premiered in Boston in 1927 with the composer as soloist and the BSO conducted by Koussevitsky. It has also been played by Louis Krasner but has not made much if any headway,.
The Golem suite is vividly performed and recorded by Schwarz and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. The suite comprises five movements from the music he wrote for the Yiddish Art Theater’s production of The Golem by H Leivick. The Golem is a creature made from clay by man and into which life is breathed by imprinting into the clay the tetragrammaton (the actual name of God). That life can be taken away just as easily by smudging out the name. The Golem also operates as a spiritual-mystical concept at other levels in the arcana of Jewish legends and lore. The present suite is for an orchestra much expanded from the original scoring of four instruments. It is wonderfully luminous, atmospheric, rhythmically ingenious and brooding especially in the outer movements portraying the Creation and then the Petrifying of the Golem. The Golem’s Rampage sounds like a fragmentary sketch for Shostakovich Leningrad (the great march). Many names and works spring to mind: Kurt Weill’s shabby-sleazy triumphant music, Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Janácek’s Sinfonietta and Vaughan Williams’ Fourth. The revels of the prominent tuba and the determined piano in Dance of the Phantom Spirits are memorable as is the trombone’s abrasive blast - a special joy (tr. 6 1.14).
The two Belshazzar tableaux, after the initial call to arms, sound like a lyrical match between Rozsa (Notturno Ungharese, Hungarian Sketches, Vintner’s Daughter and Variations on a Hungarian Song) and Kodály (Summer Evening and The Peacock Variations) - very Hungarian in style. The forwardly placed and buoyant writing for brass is very much part of the Achron soundscape. Then again he also conjures some glowingly impressionistic images (5:04 of the tr. 8) and in the Delian shimmer that is the last section of the Allergo Energico. Intriguingly, after the rhythmic shudderings at the start of the second tableau (The Feast), the music settles into a demotic good-humoured dance which is as engagingly bright-eyed as anything by Bliss, Guridi, Canteloube, Freitas Branco or Braga-Santos. The second tableau ends in a blaze of gorgeous sound. Respighi’s Vetrate di Chiesa look to your laurels.
Already sixteen more Milken Archive CDs have been issued bringing the total currently issued to 26. This is just past the halfway marker for this ambitious project which is blessed by its association with Naxos and its associated accessibility at bargain price. While only ten of the Milken series are currently available in the UK a further sixteen are accessible in the USA and more are to come.
To see full details of the series please look at www.milkenarchive.org/cds/cds.taf
It is a real pleasure to hear Achron’s music beyond the clutch of violin solos. He is much more than a pyrotechnician for aspirants of Heifetz. More Achron please."