“Sasha Cooke is a gifted storyteller and her luminous tone radiates warmth and humanity in these gut-wrenching songs. Heggie’s string-writing is not especially arresting but it’s effective enough, particularly in the way Hope’s solo part so deftly intertwines with the vocal line.“
“Violins of Hope,” performed by Sasha Cooke, Daniel Hope, Sean Mori, Dawn Harms, Kay Stern, Emil Miland, Patricia Heller was reviewed by the Gramophone! Read the full review below:
The stars of this programme are the instruments themselves, all of which come from the Violins of Hope project. Originally owned by Jewish musicians before or during the Holocaust, they have been refurbished by the project’s founders, Israeli luthiers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, and the collection travels the world to be played in remembrance. The violin used here by Daniel Hope, for example, was played by a musician in one of Auschwitz’s orchestras; others were taken along when their owners fled Nazi Germany.
Some of these instruments’ harrowing stories are told in Intonations, a new song-cycle by Jake Heggie and his frequent collaborator Gene Scheer. Heggie, thankfully, largely avoids Hebraic-sounding clichés. True, the melismatic writing in the opening song, ‘Ashes’, and the rhythmic twitches in the instrumental ‘Lament’ both evoke keening liturgical chant, and there are hints of village klezmer in ‘Feivel’, but in general Heggie seems more concerned with conveying the narrative thrust and punch of Scheer’s lyrical mini-dramas than with picturesque detail. The performance here, recorded live at its premiere, is remarkable for being as polished as it is ferocious. Sasha Cooke is a gifted storyteller and her luminous tone radiates warmth and humanity in these gut-wrenching songs. Heggie’s string-writing is not especially arresting but it’s effective enough, particularly in the way Hope’s solo part so deftly intertwines with the vocal line.
The supporting string quartet – an ad hoc ensemble of players mostly from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra led by Kay Stern (founder of the Lark Quartet) – have their turn in the spotlight with the Schubert and Mendelssohn works, and their restless, at times vehement readings likely reflect the solemnity of the occasion. Note the palpable sense of struggle in the churning figures of the Schubert (at 1’22”), or how, at 3’45” in the opening movement of the Mendelssohn, they push the intensity almost to breaking point. Ideally I’d like more breathing room in the Adagio – the Elias Quartet (ASV, 5/07) take their time and in doing so find great expressive eloquence – but these are satisfying performances nonetheless, and the recorded sound throughout is up to Pentatone’s usual high standard.