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Through the diary she kept, stage plays, movies, television specials, magazine and newspaper articles, most of us know in some intimacy the two years Anne Frank (Annelies Marie) spent in hiding in a concealed apartment in Amsterdam with her parents, her sister Margot, the Van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer, a dentist. She has become an icon reminding us of the Holocaust, the worst inhumanity of humankind, and representing hopefulness in the most oppressive of circumstances.
One of the more recent embellishments of her legacy is English composer James Whitbourn’s Annelies, a choral work with text taken from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as compiled and translated by Melanie Challenger. It is scored for soprano soloist, choir, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. The Choral Society of Durham was joined by the Riverside High School Chorus (Jill Boliek, Director) and Durham School of the Arts Chorus (Sean Grier, Director). For this performance in the chamber version, the instrumentalists were clarinetist Andrew Warwick, violinist Eric Pritchard, cellist Nate Leyland, and pianist Derison Duarte. Lynn Eustis, Chair of Voice and Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Music at Boston University was the soprano soloist. Eustis has appeared widely in opera and oratorio rolls. Dr. Rodney Wynkoop, Director of Choral Music at Duke University, was the conductor of tonight’s performance.
Annelies is divided into fourteen movements. Included in the libretto are passages from the diary (each one dated in the program) not in chronological order, but grouped by subject. There are also references to the liturgical Kyrie, a traditional German folksong, verses from the Psalms and Lamentations and a passage labeled as “information from contemporary reports” which offers some detail of the capture of the small cadre of trembling Jews and was sung as a chilling chant by the men of the choruses.
The music consists of a diversity of styles and means to convey or underline the implication of the text or situation described. Whitbourn emulates sounds of the near-by Westerkerk (church) bells and tunes heard on the radio in the Annex, along with references to Anne Frank’s German heritage and, though there are no specific Jewish songs, her Jewish heritage through stylistic devices. There are powerful grand choruses such as “One day this terrible war will be over” and compelling passages such as the one that describes looking out the window at the children running around below.
The work is not a solo representation of Anne Frank; the particularly haunting direct quotes from the diary are divided up between the soprano soloist and the choir. Eustis’ crystalline voice gives the part just the right weight; innocent, but not girlish; full-voiced, but not operatic. You do not forget you are hearing the words of Anne Frank, but neither is the composer enticed into dramatic arias for the sensitive teenager.
The blend of nearly 200 voices was marvelous and, with Wynkoop’s superb preparation and clear communication as conductor, the ensemble was spanking clean. Attacks and cut-offs are always notably crisp in performances that he directs.
The choir communicated their investment in the music and conveyed the emotions of Frank’s story effectively from terror and pleading to tender longing and bright optimism.
Solo instrumentalists Pritchard, Leyland, Warwick, and Duarte were outstanding; their playing enhanced the choral sound with blending or obbligato accompaniment or commenting counter-melodies, always being sensitive to the whole.
Congratulations to all those involved in putting this show together. It was moving – as it should be for the star, the teenager who invited us to live through her horror – she was surely there.