It was Rimsky-Korsakoff who, in St. Petersburg at the beginning of the last century, encouraged his Jewish students to show more interest in their national culture.
His advice did not fall on deaf ears: they started collecting synagogal and folk music, which they soon incorporated into their own compositions. Thus was born the Society for Jewish Music, which was banned by Stalin in 1929.
Some of the composers were exiled to the camps, a few managed to emigrate, but all were forgotten. The renewed interest in their music is mainly due to the pianist Jascha Nemtsov, one of the greatest ambassadors of Jewish music.
On the CD with the title Jewish Chamber Music we find works by composers who belonged to this Jewish School, supplemented by one of the best compositions by Ernest Bloch: the ‘Suite for Viola and Piano’ from 1919.
Not all compositions are on the same high level. A real highlight for me is Alexander Weprik’s ‘Totenlieder’, but the whole CD is worthwhile, not least because of the excellent performance. The viola player Tabea Zimmerman has a beautiful tone on her instrument: low, warm and melodious but it is clearly the pianist, Jascha Nemtsov, who is at the helm.
Alexander Weprik, Alexander Krejn, Michail Gnesin, Grigorij Gamburg, Ernest Bloch
Jewish Chamber Music
Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Have you ever heard of Abraham Krejn, a klezmer musician, and his seven children? They were called the Jewish Bachs and that makes sense, even if the comparison sounds a bit strange to you. Especially since there is a good chance that you have never heard the name before. You are not alone there.
All seven Krejn children were musicians. Most famous were brothers Alexander and Grigori, both active members of the Society for Jewish Music.
The most original compositions on the CD Jewish Songs Without Words were written by Grigori Krejn. On the basis of synagogal songs, he created his own world, full of melancholic desires.
The ‘Three Hebrew songs without words’ by Grigori’s thirteen-year-old son Julian reveal not only a special talent, but also show influences of Berg and Debussy.
Simeon Bellinson, one of the most famous clarinettists of his time, also worked as a composer and arranger. For his Suite, he arranged original compositions by Grzegorz Fitelberg, Jacob Weinberg and Boris Levenson.
Almost all the compositions on this CD are world premieres. They are fascinating works, a reminiscence of a world that has been irrevocably lost.
The clarinettist Wolfgang Meyer is an excellent musician, but for me his tone could have been a bit warmer.
Jewish Songs Without Words is the fourth CD in a series that Jascha Nemtsov made for Hånssler and, as always, his performance is not only impeccable but also heart-warming.
Grigori Krejn, Julian Krejn, Israel Brandman, Simeon Bellinson
Jewish Songs Without Words
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Hänssler Classic CD 93.094
Tabea Zimmermann and Jascha Nemtsov in ‘Ornaments – 3 Songs without Words, op. 42 by Alexander Krein: