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Niv Ashkenai's recital; 'Violins of Hope' provides a musical soundtrack featuring instruments which survived the Holocaust / LIMELIGHT

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Following on from James A. Grymes book and a a documentary, Niv Ashkenai's recital, Violins of Hope, provides a musical soundtrack featuring instruments which had survived the Holocaust and had made their way to Jerusalem to be restored by luthier Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom. Understandably the book became a great success in America where it also spawned an acclaimed series of concerts and films which continue to this day. The Weinsteins have gathered a considerable collection of refurbished instruments which has led to concerts of entire string sections being composed of them.

This recital by Ashkenazi is the first audio recording as such, and Ashkenazi is the only musician thus far to have been granted a long-term of one of these historically important violins. Trained at New York's prestigious Juilliard School (like Graybil), Ashkenazi was trained by the great Ithzak Perlman, adding to his already Judaic roots, and reason for his aptness in such project. The musical programme has been carefully chosen from pieces composed from the time of the Holocaust until the present, thereby following the sad journey of the violin itself.

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Opening with a Serenade (1942) by Robert Dauber, it is the only surviving work by this Theresienstadt inmate who died a few years later from typhoid fever. This is followed by the popular theme from Schindler's List by John Williams, Kaddish by Ravel as well as several intimate pieces by Paul Ben-Haim. The most recent of pieces was composed specifically for this project by Sharon Farber where it is adapted from a concerto to the chamber forces of violin, four-hand piano and narrator.

 

Throughout Ashkenazi plays with compassion and commitment, and generally his playing is free from excessive passion and overplaying. However, heard in one sitting, there can be a sense of having too much of the same (good) thing.