Vanished Voices treads an accessible middle path towards remembrance and renewal, but it's no masterpiece. To make poetry of hell, you need to be distanced from it - and 50 years is still too close.
Five hundred years is a safer bet, which is perhaps one reason why Rene Clemencic's hour-long oratorio Kabbala (presented last Thursday by an augmented Clemencic Consort at St John's Smith Square) was more artistically successful. Clemencic, who isn't Jewish, was significantly stimulated by the writings of Kabbala expert Gershom Scholem (1897-1982). "In a day when such mystical impulses seem to have dwindled to the vanishing point," wrote Scholem, "they still retain an enormous force in the books of Franz Kafka." Kafka served as a bridge between the old and the new, and Clemencic - an early-music specialist with a passionate commitment to new music - combined the ritual with the surreal. "I didn't want to invent something incredibly `new'," he told us, "something which, after a week, is already incredibly `old'." And indeed, Kabbala places echoes of medieval music into a stylistically ambiguous sound-frame. The forces employed include a quintet of male singers (two countertenors, two tenors and a bass-baritone), five brass players and two heavily employed percussionists. Kabbala opens with a thunderous roll on the bass drum, a crescendoing brass chord and "Vocal Permutations with the Tetragrammaton, the Unpronounceable Name of God" before proceeding through nine further sections and culminating in a "War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness at the End of Time" and a final "Hallelujah". The ecstatically rhythmic, starkly ceremonial closing minutes reminded me - in effect, if not in harmonic complexion - of the Finale from Britten's Spring Symphony, while suggestions of Part and Reich added some post-modern gruel to the medieval mix.