SACRED SERVICE BY AMRAM HEARD
Washington Hebrew Congregation Festival choir, Herman Berlinski, director and organist; soloist, Gerold; Siena, cantor. At Washington Hebrew Congregation. Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening, Amram.
Last night, at Washington Hebrew Congregation on Macomb Street, was given the first Washington performance of David Amram's Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening.
I followed the performance with particular interest, for I knew David Amram when he was a boy of 16, and saw some of his early efforts at composition and horn playing, and saw the beginnings of the talent and energy and emotional drive toward music that have led him in such a short time to sustained success in composing for the theater and for various chamber-music combinations.
The Sacred Service is an impressive contribution to religious music. So far as I can tell, it uses none of the musical materials usually found in Jewish sacred music; but it is direct and honest, and seems to reflect the ancient direction of the composer's namesake, "Sing unto the Lord a new song."
The work requires an expert cantor, and found him last night in the person of Gerold Siena, cantor of Temple Emanu-El, Yonkers, N.Y. The task of the choir is also rigorous as much of the music lies in the highest range, and it presents certain problems of rhythm and phrasing that were not always mastered in last night's performance. Much of the music is supported by the organ.
The idiom is contemporary, but not especially avant-garde. There is everywhere a wealth of melody, well suited, so far as I could tell, to the language and to the ideas expressed by the words. The texture was sometimes contrapuntal, sometimes homophonic; but the sonorities were always fresh and clear, and the rhythms vital and moving.
I believe this was an important event, not only for music but also for religion. The great developments in religious music of the past have always seen the adaptation of a contemporary style to the needs of a vigorous church. The secular antecedents of the music give way to the religious expression, and, in time, with changing styles, the best sounds entirely devotional.