Joodse muziek

Channa Malkin and Izhar Elias in ‘Songs of Love and Exile, a Sephardic Journey’

Channa.jpg

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

https://www.channamalkin.com

In Dutch: Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

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Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey

Channa.jpgMario Castelnuovo–Tedesco (Florence, 3 april 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 maart 1968) werd geboren in de Joodse familie van Sefardische afkomst (Joden die in 1492 werden verdreven uit Spanje). Hij was buitengewoon creatief, op zijn naam staat van alles: pianowerken, concerten, opera’s…. Zijn composities werden gespeeld door de grootsten: Gieseking, Piatigorski, Heifetz, Casella. Tegenwoordig kennen we hem voornamelijk van zijn gitaarwerken, bijna honderd in totaal, veelal geschreven voor Andres Segovia.

Begin jaren dertig is de componist zijn ‘Joodse roots’ gaan ontdekken, iets wat versterkt werd door het opkomend fascisme en de rassenwetten. Zijn muziek werd niet meer uitgevoerd. Geholpen door Arturo Toscanini heeft Castelnuovo-Tedesco, samen met zijn gezin vlak voor het uitbreken van de tweede wereldoorlog Italië weten te verlaten

Zoals de meeste Joodse componisten die Europa ontvluchtten belandde ook Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Hollywood. Waar hij dankzij Jascha Heifetz door Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer werd aangesteld als componist van filmmuziek. In die tijd componeerde hij ook nieuwe opera’s en vocale werken geïnspireerd door Amerikaanse poëzie, Joodse liturgie en de Bijbel.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco: “Ik heb in mijn leven veel melodieën voor zangstem geschreven en er 150 van uitgegeven (in mijn la bleef veel liggen) op teksten in alle talen die ik ken: Italiaans, Frans, Engels, Duits, Spaans en Latijn. Mijn ambitie en sterker nog, mijn diepe drijfveer is altijd geweest om mijn muziek te verenigen met poëtische teksten die mijn belangstelling en gevoel prikkelden, om de lyriek ervan tot uitdrukking te brengen”.

In 1966 componeerde hij The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. Het is een setting van negentien gedichten van Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Jacob ibn Ezra, ook bekend als Ha-Sallaḥ (‘schrijver van boetvaardige gebeden’). Ibn Ezra werd geboren in Granada rond 1055 – 1060, en overleed na 1138 en hij wordt beschouwd als één van de grootste dichters van Spanje. Die ook nog eens een enorme invloed op de Arabische literatuur heeft gehad. Castelnuovo-Tedesco componeerde de ‘divans’ (gedichten) op de moderne Engelse vertaling.

Ik betreur het zeer dat het duo Channa Malkin (sopraan) en Izhar Elias maar zes liederen van de cyclus hebben opgenomen. Want niet alleen dat ze bijna geen concurrentie hebben (zelf ken ik maar twee complete opnamen van de liederen), maar ook omdat hun uitvoering werkelijk prachtig is. Malkins lyrische sopraan: meisjesachtig maar toch zeer kernachtig past de liederen als een handschoen. Zij is in Amsterdam geboren maar haar Joodse roots liggen in Moldavië, Rusland en Oekraïne.

Ook de gitarist Izhar Elias is in Nederland geboren maar zijn roots liggen in Irak en in India. En in Israël. Wat ze gemeen hebben is de rusteloosheid en de sterke drang om iets met hun eigen verleden te doen. En dat hoor je. Dat hoor je ook in de dertien Sefardische volksliedjes die hier gepresenteerd worden in bewerkingen van o.a. Joaquin Rodrigo en Daniel Akiva.

Wat de cd dat ene extra geeft is de werkelijk voortreffelijke booklet met veel informatie en alle liedteksten


https://www.channamalkin.com

Songs of Love & Exile – A Sephardic Journey
Channa Malkin (sopraan), Izhar Elias (gitaar)
Brilliant Classics 95652

The Yiddish Cabaret: Jerusalem Quartet’s tribute to their grandparents

Jiddish CabaretThe Jerusalem String Quartet never disappoints. Never. Whatever they play. It’s not just about perfection, but also, or perhaps mainly, about their attention to the story behind the notes. For their involvement in the pieces they play. And their search for the truth that may not even exist. But with this album they have gone far above themselves and their own standards. Something that might have to do with the fact that they were allowed to choose the works themselves, none of which are commonplace?

With their choice they have also made a statement. Something we all know but still don’t want to admit out loud because we feel uncomfortable about it? About the influence of Jews and their contribution to our Western culture?

These days, Schulhoff and certainly Korngold are no longer curiosities, although of the latter mostly his operas are performed these days. Yet his chamber music compositions are not to be sneezed at. Listen his second string quartet, for example! At the first notes you get the nostalgic feeling of an unattainable lover and an intense desire. Beautiful and painful at the same time. Not only are the notes divinely beautiful, it is also the performance. Yearning and full of desire.

The five pieces for Erwin Schulhoff’s string quartet are a  link to the title of the album: the Jewish Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov composed his ‘Yiddish’ in 2018. These five songs are based on the Yiddish songs from the Polish interbellum, the period between the two world wars, which were sung in the cabarets in Warsaw and Lódz. The soprano Hila Baggio manages to strike the right tone in the songs. Light-footed. Think of the very young Lotte Lenya.

The album is dedicated to the grandparents of the members of the quartet. I allow myself to include my own grandparents that I have never known.


The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: String quartet no. 2 on. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Pieces for string quartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Yiddish – 5 Lieder for Stem and Stem Quarter (2018)
Hila Baggio (soprano), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

The Yiddish Cabaret: Jerusalem Quartet’s hommage aan hun grootouders

Jiddish Cabaret

Het Jerusalem Strijkkwartet stelt nooit teleur. Nooit. Wat ze ook spelen. Het gaat niet alleen om de perfectie maar ook, of misschien voornamelijk om hun aandacht voor het verhaal achter de noten. Voor hun betrokkenheid bij de stukken die ze spelen. En hun zoektocht naar de waarheid die wellicht niet eens bestaat. Maar met deze album zijn ze ver boven zichzelf en hun eigen norm gestegen. Wat wellicht te maken kan hebben dat ze de stukken zelf mochten kiezen, stukken die geen van allen alledaags zijn?

Met hun keuze hebben ze ook een statement gemaakt. Iets wat we eigenlijk allemaal weten maar nog steeds niet hardop willen toegeven want daar voelen we ons ongemakkelijk over? Over de invloed van Joden en hun aandeel in onze Westerse cultuur?

Nu zijn Schulhoff en zeker Korngold niet zo’n rariteit meer, al worden van de laatste tegenwoordig voornamelijk zijn opera’s uitgevoerd. En dat, terwijl zijn kamermuziekcomposities echt niet te versmaden zijn. Neem alleen zijn tweede strijkkwartet! Bij de eerste noten al krijg je het nostalgische gevoel van een onbereikbare geliefde en een intens verlangen. Mooi en pijnlijk tegelijk. Het zijn niet alleen de goddelijk mooie noten, het is ook de uitvoering. Smachtend en vol verlangen.

De vijf stukken voor het strijkkwartet van Erwin Schulhoff zijn een soort brug richting de titel van het album: het Joodse Cabaret. Leonid Desyatnikov componeerde zijn ‘Jiddisch’ in 2018. Die vijf liederen zijn gebaseerd op de Jiddische liedjes uit het Poolse interbellum, de periode tussen de twee wereldoorlogen, die gezongen werden in de cabarets in Warschau en Lódz. De sopraan Hila Baggio weet in de liedjes de juiste toon te treffen. Lichtvoetig. Denk aan de zeer jonge Lotte Lenya.

Het album is opgedragen aan de grootouders van de leden van het kwartet. Ik permiteer mij om ook mijn eigen grootouders die ik nooit heb gekend erbij te betrekken.


The Yiddish Cabaret
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Strijkkwartet nr. 2 op. 26
Erwin Schulhoff: 5 Stukken voor strijkkwartet
Leonid Desyatnikov: Jiddisch – 5 Lieder für Stimme und Streichquartett (2018)
Hila Baggio (sopraan), Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902631

Michael Tilson Thomas: in interpretation there is no absolute truth

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Michael Tilson Thomas © Kristen Loke

The Amstel Hotel is totally unsuitable for a good conversation, especially with a musician. The ‘Muzak’ in the background is annoyingly present and the search for a decent space takes up a lot of time. Michael Tilson Thomas – tall, slim, dressed in black jeans and a checkered jacket – doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.

Two days earlier he conducted an extremely exciting concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw with music by Berg, Mahler and Brahms. Looking back at the concert I ask him if he did not feel the Brahms started a little too fast?
“Well, no.”

And was the order of the composers: Berg, Mahler, Brahms not a bit strange?
“Sometimes I do it the other way around”

https://basiaconfuoco.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/mtt-nbessie.jpg

Bessie Thomashefsky

So there I am! Fortunately, Tilson Thomas is able to laugh at my stupid questions and I decide to start with his ‘roots.’ Boris Thomashefsky, Michael’s grandfather was THE man behind the Jewish theatre. He wrote the lyrics, composed the music and performed it together with his wife Bessie, one of the greatest tragediennes of her time: she was the first Salome in America, in Yiddish!

Boris Tomashevsky & Yiddish Theatre – BBC Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy (2013):

Der Yeshiva Bokher Kadisch ( Boris Thomashevsky – Louis Friedsell ):

Michael Tilson Thomas was born in Hollywood where his father found work in the film industry. Father Ted Thomashefsky worked a lot with Orson Welles and with Marc Blitzstein, Michael’s cousin. In order to avoid going through life as the ‘son of’ he changed his name to Thomas.

His theatrical background would have meant a certain predisposition for music theatre, but with the exception of a few concert performances he has not (yet) conducted an opera. And all this while he considers Puccini to be one of the greatest composers. Why?

Tilson Thomas explains this by the insufficient preparation time at most opera companies. To the six weeks of rehearsals in Amsterdam I mention, he has a rebuttal: they are rehearsals for the director who works with the ‘actors’, not for the conductor, singers and musicians.

It is really a pity, because he loves opera and he loves working with singers. This is how he works with musicians as well – looking for character, for expression, for colours. Breathing in music means nothing more than the music itself, and that is something you learn best from singers. Working with an orchestra is the same for a conductor as working with actors for a director.

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San Francisco Symphony Orchestra © Bill Swerbenski

For Tilson Thomas, communicating with the audience is the most important thing. In Davies Symphony Hall (THE house of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra) he often rehearses from the hall. If the music is complicated, he calls in an assistant, but he himself, seated on a high chair, leads the orchestra from where the audience sits: only there can he hear what it will actually sound like.

He conducts a lot more than we can imagine, with the Russians, Mahler, modern Americans and the Impressionists as his guides. Is there something he doesn’t do?

“Bruckner. Of his symphonies only numbers 6, 8 and 9 are on my repertoire and for the time being I don’t feel like doing the other ones as well. Bach’s ‘Matthaeus Passion’? Why? It is music that I think should be performed like chamber music, in a small, intimate hall and I work with large orchestras.”

“What do I do if there is a difference of opinion between me and the soloist about tempi or interpretation? I listen to the other person. There are no absolute truths in interpretations. And (smiling): I can usually choose the soloist myself.”

Michael Tilson Thomas on music and emotions through the ages:

http://www.thomashefsky.org/

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

Benjamin Frankel: from watchmaker’s apprentice to the sound wizard

Benjamin Frankel, by Lida Moser, 1953 - NPG x45316 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
In 1957 Benjamin Frankel moved to Switzerland. In England, his homeland, he was mainly known as a film composer. No wonder, because to his name is music for more than 100 films, including classics such as The Seventh Veil, The Night of the Iguana and Curse of the Werewolf.

The night of the Iguana:

In Switzerland he finally found the peace to engage in serious(er) music. In 15 years (Frankel died in 1973) he composed eight symphonies and one opera.

Benjamin Frankel was born in London in 1906 into a Polish-Jewish family. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a watchmaker. Luckily for him, his talent was soon discovered. For a while he played with the idea of becoming a Jewish composer alla Bloch. He considered himself an ‘English Jew’ or a ‘Jewish Englishman’, which did not prevent him from marrying a non-Jewish woman. An act that caused a break with his family.

His musical language is not easy to describe. In the fifties he studied serialism and regularly applied it in his own compositions, yet his works do not sound atonal anywhere. Perhaps the best example of this is the viola concerto, which is very melodic, romantic and yet uses the twelve-tone technique.

Frankel composed his violin concerto – at his request – for his friend Max Rostal. The premiere took place in 1951 at the Festival of Britain. The concert is entitled In Memory of Six Million and embodies Frankel’s personal commitment to the fate of the European Jews.

The beginning reminds me of Korngold’s violin concerto and in the fourth movement I encounter Mahlerian ‘tunes’: there is also a quote from ‘Verlorne Müh’ from his Wunderhorn songs.

Live recording by Max Rostal:

Ulf Hoelscher, who rehearsed the concerto with Max Rostal, plays it virtuoso and with an intense involvement.

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Benjamin Frankel
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op.24 (In memory of the six milion)
Viola concerto op.45
Serenata Concertante for Piano Trio and Orchestra op.37
Ulf Hoelscher (violin), Brett Dean (viola), David Lale (cello)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Werner Andreas Albert
CPO 9994222

frankel-kw
Frankel’s first three string quartets were first performed by the Blech Quartet in 1947 and 1949 respectively, and the fourth was premiered in 1949 by the very young Amadeus Quartet (where were the recording engineers then?).

Frankel’s gift for a light-hearted approach to serialism can be heard in his fifth string quartet. The work, which dates from 1965, is an example of the composer’s unique ability to transform the atonal into a melody.

The unsurpassed company CPO, which revealed Frankel’s music to the world, deserves all praise; also for the splendid explanations with music examples written by Buxton Orr, Frankel’s pupil and friend.

Benjamin Frankel
Complete String Quartets
Nomos Quartett
CPO 999420

In Dutch:
Benjamin Frankel: van horlogemakersleerling tot de klanktovenaar

Paul Ben-Haim’s Evocation: what a discovery

Ben Haim Evocation

Paul Ben -Haim, who was born in Munich in 1897 as Paul Frankenburger and died almost 90 years later in Tel Aviv, remains a great unknown to many music lovers. This is a great pity, because the oeuvre of this sadly forgotten composer is very diverse and most exciting. At one time he was totally immersed in the German Romantic tradition before he almost radically broke with it when he left his native country in 1933.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Paul Ben-Haim

He began his new life composers life in what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine by changing his name, after which he also adapted his compositions to his new homeland. Starting in 1933, most of his works were influenced and inspired by Jewish, Israeli and Arabic melodies.

Between 1939 and 1949 Ben-Haim accompanied the at that time extremely famous folk singer Bracha Zefira. Zefira, who was of Yemeni origin, had a great influence on the musical life in what was then Palestine. It was for her that he composed the Berceuse Sfaradite, a song which had become one of her greatest successes.

Bracha Zefira:

The Violin Concerto, which dates from 1950, is probably Ben-Haim’s best-known composition, in no small part as a result of the great recording by Itzhak Perlman. The CD is still on the market, I believe, but as far as I know the Concerto is only rarely performed. Why?

Three Studies for Solo Violin is Ben-Haim’s last violin composition, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin in 1981. Splendid. But I was most struck by the completely unknown Evocation from 1942, a work which has its premiere here and which really gave me goose bumps. Wow.

Evocation live:

Itamar Zorman, the young Israeli violinist who won the 2011 prize in the Tchaikovsky competition, has immersed himself in the composer and his work. Thanks to him, this album was compiled and released. He plays these works as if his life depends on them. He believes in them and he communicates that belief more than convincingly.

Zorman about Ben-Haim:

The accompaniment by Amy Yang (piano) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Philippe Bach is first-rate as well


Paul Ben-Haim
Evocation. Poem for violin and orchestra, op. 32, Three Songs without Words, Violin Concerto, Three studies, Berceuse sfaradite, Toccata from Five Pieces for Piano.
Itamar Zorman (violin), Amy Yang (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Philippe Bach.
BIS-239

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

In Dutch: Evocation van Paul Ben-Haim is een ware ontdekking

More Ben-Haim: PAUL BEN-HAIM