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The German composer Max Bruch was, like many of his Romantic-era contemporaries, rather keen on travelling around Europe.
Kol Nidrei, his warm and richly evocative work for cello and orchestra, was one of the first pieces he set about composing when he took up his post as Principal Conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. It was composed specifically for Liverpool’s Jewish community, taking as its inspiration two traditional Hebrew melodies. The first, heard at the outset, originates from the traditional Jewish service on the night of Yom Kippur; the second is an extract from a musical setting of the Byron poem ‘Those that Wept on Babel’s stream’.
A common misconception about Bruch is that he was a Jewish composer. He was in fact a Protestant Christian – but he was greatly inspired by Old Testament stories and by his own modern-day friendships with a number of prominent Jewish musicians. Aside from the Violin Concerto No. 1, Kol Nidrei is Bruch’s most frequently performed piece. Sumptuous, rich cello writing and gloriously assured orchestral accompaniment go a great way towards explaining its enduring popularity.
Jacqueline du Pré (cello); Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim (conductor). EMI Classics: CDC 5572932.
Illustration: Mark Millington