Annelies The Anne Frank Oratorio [Adapted from The Dairy of Anne Frank by Melanie Challenger] [World premiere]
Louise Kateck (soprano)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt
Reviewed: 5 April, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
A project initiated by librettist Melanie Challenger, “Annelies: The Anne Frank Oratorio” is, surprisingly, the first artistic work, in any medium, to use Anne Frank’s own words (presumably Michael Tilson Thomas’s Anne Frank-related piece doesn’t?). Commissioned to commemorate those who suffered in the Holocaust, and coinciding with the anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, extracts of the work were first performed in January 2005 to dignitaries and 500 Holocaust survivors. Challenger was determined that the music should be capable of moving both adults and children alike, and free of pretension or self-congratulation: “There is no room for ego in a work whose subject matter is the Holocaust, and James is the most generous and sensitive of composers”. Judging from the reception awarded this first complete performance, Challenger’s decision was a wise one.
Whitbourn possesses a strong understanding of orchestral colour, using his orchestral means to vividly evoke both the light and shade of Anne’s world. Divided into 14 section, “Annelies” (Annelies Marie Frank) charts a cinematic course over its 75 minutes helped along by frequent orchestral passages that strongly point to Hollywood film music, and the huge projection of a smiling Anne Frank above the orchestra further emphasised the filmic nature of the concert.
The concert began with London schoolchildren reading extracts from the Diary followed by some touching words from Buddy Elias, Anne Frank’s cousin, and an account of the taking of Bergen-Belsen by Major Dick Williams; he emphasised the horrors experienced by Anne Frank. Whitbourn’s ‘Prelude’ began with a rich, melodious flurry of strings and horns into which the choir joined with wordless chant. For ‘The Capture Foretold’, Louise Kateck took the stage as Anne Frank, looking very much the part, her piano-accompanied voice creating a fragile and poignant counterpoint to the strength of the orchestra. As these forces took over, Kateck sat meekly at a small wooden school desk, her pitiful figure omnipresent through ‘stirring’ orchestral passages, sombre choral movements and almost frightening shifts in dynamics and tempo.
Kateck was mesmerising and moving, commanding through her characterisation, her voice beautiful but weakly so, and the choir was commendable. There were moments of notable orchestration, Whitbourn’s handling of percussion being particularly engaging and his writing for oboe, piano and violin also stood out. Leonard Slatkin’s command of the material was exemplary, and the Royal Philharmonic was admirable. Some of the invention dragged, but Challenger and Whitbourn have created a strong and poignant work that delivers on Anne Frank’s wish: “to be useful … to all people, even those I’ve never met.”