Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Florence, 3 April 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 March 1968) was born into a Jewish family of Sephardic origin (Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492). He was extraordinarily creative, and has numerous compositions to his name: piano works, concerts, opera’s…. His compositions were played by the greatest: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Nowadays we mainly know him from his guitar works, almost a hundred in total, mostly written for Andres Segovia.
In the early 1930s, the composer began to discover his ‘Jewish roots’, something that was reinforced by the rise of fascism and racial laws. His music was no longer performed. With the help of Arturo Toscanini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family managed to leave Italy just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Like most of the Jewish composers who fled Europe, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in Hollywood. Thanks to Jascha Heifetz he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a composer of film music. At that time he also composed new opera’s and vocal works inspired by American poetry, Jewish liturgy and the Bible.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “In my life I have written many melodies for the voice and published 150 of them (many remained in my drawer) on texts in all the languages I know: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Latin. My ambition and indeed, my deep motivation has always been to unite my music with poetic texts that stimulated my interest and feelings, to express their lyricism”.
In 1966 he composed The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. It is a setting of nineteen poems by, Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra also known as Ha-Sallaḥ (‘writer of penitential prayers’). Ibn Ezra was born in Granada around 1055 – 1060, and died after 1138 and is considered one of the greatest poets in Spain. He also had an enormous influence on Arabic literature. Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the ‘divan’ (poems) on the modern English translation.
I very much regret that the duo Channa Malkin (soprano) and Izhar Elias only recorded six songs of the cycle. Not only because they have almost no competition (I only know two complete recordings of the songs myself), but also because their performance is really beautiful. Malkin’s lyrical soprano: girlish yet very focused fits the songs like a glove. She was born in Amsterdam, but her Jewish roots lie in Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine.
The guitarist Izhar Elias was also born in the Netherlands, but his roots lie in Iraq and India. And in Israel. What they have in common is the restlessness and the strong urge to do something with their own past. And you can hear that. You can hear that in the thirteen Sephardic folk songs that are presented here in arrangements by Joaquin Rodrigo and Daniel Akiva, among others.
What makes the CD stand out is the really excellent booklet with lots of information and all the lyrics.
Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey
Channa Malkin (soprano), Izhar Elias (guitar)
Brilliant Classics 95652
In Dutch: Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey