Kronos Quartet / David Krakauer play Osvaldo Golijov / The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind

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Album cover: kabalistic amulet, nice calligrahic font. Kronos Quartet/
David Krakauer

play Osvaldo Golijov
The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind
Nonesuch 79444-2, 1997

To the limited extent that I know modern classical music, the Kronos Quartet are one of the groups from whom I expect interesting selections and impeccable playing. Hearing that they had teamed up with klez/avant garde clarinettist David Krakauer sounded like a match made in heaven. It's also the sort of thing that I want to mention on these pages to stretch the sense of what might be interesting to people who listen to klez.

This is not a bad recording, but it is far from the Quartet's best. Isaac the Blind, the inspiration for the piece, was a Kabalist 800 years ago. I do understand that this is the type of piece (Jewish, Kabalah) that is conceptually popular now, but I am not convinced that this piece is strong enough to carry the musicians. Worse, at times the Quartet feels drowned out by Krakauer's intensity. The result is an uneven pastiche of Jewish music with a strong klezmer influence (especially on the second movement) which often feels out of balance.

The composer writes:

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind is a kind of epic, a history of Judaism. It has Abraham, exile, and redemption. The movements sound like they are in three of the languages spoken in almost 6,000 years of Jewish history: the first in Aramaic; the second in Yiddish; and the third in Hebrew. I never wrote it with this idea in mind, and only understood it when the work was finished. But while I was composing the second movement, for example, my father would sit out on the deck with the newspaper, the sports pages, and every once in a while he would shout, "There you go! Another Yiddish chord!"

Having said all of that, the question then arises, "Does this recording have meaning in terms of Jewish music defining itself or its time in this century? Is the music pleasurable on its own terms; does it push one's senses, stretch one's mind? Jewish-music mailing list participant Ruth Rose, writes:

I just heard Kronos live doing the piece in Amsterdam. This kind of writing is a wonderful blend of klezmer into "classical" styles. The last movement is actually a recycling of Golijov's "K'vakarat", a piece for cantor and string quartet also recorded by Kronos in their CD "Night Prayers." You might want to listen to that, too. In any event, they played great, as usual, and the clarinetist was out of this world.

Mostly, I too, enjoy this, and find myself listening to it, often. And if I have questions about the performance or its ultimate import, this is still, like all Kronos recordings, nothing less than a pleasure and an immersion into a different way of listening for a few minutes. I look forward to hearing it live.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/13/95

Kronos Quartet:
David Harrington: violin
John Sherba: violin
Hank Dutt: viola
John Jeanrenaud: cello

David Krakauer: clarinet, bass clarinet, basset horn

The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind

  1. Prelude: Calmo, Sospeso. 3:14
  2. I. Agitato--Con Fuoco--Maestosa--Senza Misura, Oscliante. 8:33
  3. II. Teneramente--Ruvido--Presto. 10:33
  4. III. Calmo, Sospeso--Allegro Pesante. 7:08
  5. Postlude: Lento, Liberamente. 2:23

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