Jascha Nemtsov and Jewish Music

Jascha Nemtsov - Pianist
Jascha Nemtsov © Susanne Krauss

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)
Hänssler CD93008

Jewish songs

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:

Trio Khnopff speelt Weinberg

Weinberg 1945

De titel: Weinberg 1945 verwijst naar het jaartal waarin alle op deze cd opgenomen composities zijn ontstaan. De eerste uitvoering van het pianotrio vond plaats op 9 juni 1947, door Weinberg zelf en de twee leden van het Beethovenkwartet: Dmitri Tsyganov (viool) en Sergei Shrinsky (cello).

Van het trio bestaan er bij mijn weten al minstens negen uitvoeringen, allemaal goed tot uitstekend. Denk alleen maar aan Gidon Kremer (de grootste pleitbezorger van Weinbergs muziek, Yulianna Avdeeva en Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė (DG).

Of, mijn absolute favoriet met Dmitry Sitkovetsky, David Geringas en Jascha Nemtsov (Hänssler).

Hiermee vergelijken valt deze uitvoering mij een beetje tegen. Voornamelijk vanwege de pianiste: Stéphanie Salmin is te dominant en de pianoklank overheerst de strijkers, iets wat ook aan de opname kan liggen.

Maar de cellosonate en de Rhapsodie op Moravische thema’s (vervang het ‘Moravische’ door het ‘Joodse’, wat eigenlijk de bedoeling was) maken alles goed. Hier krijgen de cellist (Romain Dhainaut) en Sadie Fields (viool) alle ruimte om te schitteren en dat doen zij.

Het is dan ook Sadie Fields die mijn hart volledig heeft gestolen in de Two songs without words die hier hun allereerste uitvoering ooit beleven. Tot voor kort dacht men namelijk dat die twee prachtige miniatuurtjes verloren zijn gegaan.

Weinberg 1945
Pianotrio op. 24, Cellosonate nr. 1 in C, op. 21, Two songs without words voor viool en piano, Rhapsody on a Moldavian Theme voor viool en piano op. 47 nr. 3
Trio Khnopff: Sadie Fields (viool), Stéphanie Salmin (piano), Romain Dhainaut (cello)
Pavane ADW 7590


Achron in Petersburg

Joseph Achron in Saint Petersburg  © Courtesy of the Department of Music, Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem, Achron Collection.

Arnold Schoenberg firmly believed that Joseph Achron was the most underrated composer of his generation. Schoenberg praised his originality and claimed Achron’s music was destined for eternity. Yet, despite his enthusiastic praise, Joseph Achron never became a household name.

Achron Hebrew melody

Violin buffs no doubt know his Hebrew Melody, a much loved encore of many violinists, starting with Heifetz.

Achron Heifetz.jpg


Hebrew Melody, here played by Josef Hassid:

Hebrew Melody is inspired by a theme Achron heard as a young boy in a synagogue in Warsaw. It is one of his earliest compositions,  dating from 1911, and his first “Jewish” work.  In the year he composed it Achron joined the Society for Jewish Folk Music.

Achroon kind

Joseph Achron as a child in Warsaw

But let’s start at the beginning. Joseph Achron was born in 1886 in Russia and died 57 years later in Los Angeles. His mother was an estimable singer, and his father was a cantor who also played the violin. Joseph received his first violin lessons from him, but soon he was replaced by professional teachers. At age eight he gave his first performance, and by the time he was eighteen, he had finished his first compositions.

Achron -Living-Hall-of-Fame-of-Music-Leopold-Auer-354

© Milchen Archive

His career as a composer properly started in the twenties of the last century.  In Saint Petersburg, Achron joined the composers of the “New Jewish School.” Several years later he moved to Berlin, where he got acquainted with the works of the French impressionists, and the Second Viennese School.

In 1924 he made a trip of several months to Palestine. He not only performed there, but also collected a huge variety of folk music he discovered there. The notes he took during this trip were later used for several of his compositions. In his Violin Concerto No. 1,  Op. 60 (1925) several Yemenite themes can be heard.



Joseph Achron (right) with members of the cast of The Golem. H. Leivick (center), New York.
Credit: Courtesy of the Department of Music, Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem, Achron Collection.

In 1925 he moved to New York where he was invited to compose music for the Yiddish theatre. Achron wrote the music for several of their productions, including Stempenyu, a play by Sholem Aleichem about a Jewish violinist.

The Stempenyu Suite, performed by Karen Bentley Pollick and Jascha Nemtsov:

In the thirties Joseph Achron moved to Hollywood, where he died in 1943.

Achron metKlemperer

Joseph Achron with Otto Klemperer (right). Klemperer conducted the premieres of Achron’s second and third violin concertos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. © Courtesy of the Department of Music, Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem, Achron Collection

Much of Achron’s music still awaits discovery by wider circles, although numerous attempts have been made to rekindle interest in it. Since the nineties of the last century two CDs came out with compositions for violin and piano. Different as they are, both interpretations are highly valuable, if only for the opportunity they provide to finally get to know – and appreciate – his compositions.


Achron Miriam Kramer ASV

On the ASV label we hear Miriam Kramer, a young English violinist, once named ‘United Kingdom’s Performer of the Year’. Her CD starts with a slightly hesitant rendition of the 1ère Suite en Style Ancien from 1906 ( a world premiere recording). From Sonata No. 1, Op. 29 onwards her tone gets steadier and in Children’s Suite it is possible to enjoy her without any reservations. Her pianist, the Dutch Simon Over, provides excellent support. The reason I am not overenthusiastic lies not with Kramer, but with Hagai Shaham, the soloist on the second Achron CD.

 (Joseph Achron: Music for Violin & Piano; Miriam Kramer, Simon Over; ASV CD QS 6235)


Achron Shaham Biddulph

Hagai Shaham (not related to Gil) is an Israeli from the school of the famous violin teacher Ilona Feher. His tone is warm and dark and he plays with bravura and agility, and plenty of schmaltz when necessary. Unashamed enjoyment from start to finish! If you do not fall in love with this CD, then I give up.

Shaham’s regular accompanist is Arnon Erez, also from Israel. The textbook is in two languages: English and Yiddish (Stempenyu. The violin music of Joseph Achron; Hagai Shaham, Arnon Erez; Biddulph LAW 021)


Achron Shaham Hyperion

Fifteen years after their Biddulph recording Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez turned their attention to Achron’s music for a second time. In 2012 they recorded the Complete Suites for Violin and Piano for Hyperion, including the Stempenyu Suite and, of course,  the Hebrew Melody (Hyperion CDA67841).

English translation Remko Jas


Jascha Nemtsov en de Joodse muziek

Jascha Nemtsov - Pianist

Jascha Nemtsov © Susanne Krauss

Het was Nikolaj Rimski-Korsakoff, die in St. Petersburg aan het begin van de vorige eeuw zijn Joodse leerlingen aanspoorde om wat meer interesse te tonen voor hun nationale cultuur. Het was niet tegen dovemansoren gezegd: men begon met het verzamelen van synagogale- en volksmuziek, en algauw verwerkten zij het in hun eigen composities. Zo ontstond het Gezelschap  voor de Joodse Muziek, dat in 1929 door Stalin werd verboden. Sommige van de componisten werden naar de kampen verbannen, enkelen is het gelukt om te emigreren, maar allen werden vergeten.

De hernieuwde belangstelling voor hun muziek is voornamelijk te danken aan de pianist Jascha Nemtsov, één van de grootste ambassadeurs van de Joodse muziek.


Op de cd getiteld Jewish Chamber Music treffen wij werken aan van componisten, die tot deze Joodse School behoorden, aangevuld met één van de beste composities van Ernest Bloch: de ‘Suite voor altviool en piano’ uit 1919.

Niet alle composities zijn van hetzelfde hoge niveau. Een echte uitschieter is voor mij  de ‘Totenlieder’ van Alexander Weprik, maar de hele cd is zeer de moeite waard, niet in de laatste plaats vanwege de voortreffelijke uitvoering.

De altvioliste Tabea Zimmerman weet een prachtige toon aan haar instrument te ontlokken: laag, warm en zangerig maar het is de pianist die duidelijk aan het roer staat.

Hieronder: Tabea Zimmermann en Jascha Nemtsov spelen ‘Ornaments – 3 Songs without Words, op. 42 van Alexander Krein:


Alexander Weprik, Alexander Krejn, Michail Gnesin,  Grigorij Gamburg, Ernest Bloch
Jewish Chamber Music
Tabea Zimmermann (altviool), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Hänssler CD93008


Jewish songs

Kent u Abraham Krejn, een klezmer-muzikant en zijn zeven kinderen? De Joodse Bachs werden ze genoemd en daar zit iets in, al klinkt de vergelijking u vreemd in de oren. Zeker, omdat de kans groot is dat u de naam nooit eerder hebt gehoord. Daar bent u trouwens niet alleen in.

Alle zeven kinderen Krejn zijn de muziek ingegaan. Het beroemdst werden broers Alexander en Grigori, beiden actieve leden van het Gezelschap voor de Joodse Muziek.

De meest originele composities op Jewish Songs Without Words zijn van de hand van Grigori Krejn. Op basis van synagogale gezangen schiep hij een eigen wereld, vol weemoedige verlangens.

De ‘Three Hebrew songs without words’ van Grigori’s dertienjarige zoon Julian verraden niet alleen een bijzonder talent, maar ook de invloeden van Berg en Debussy.

Simeon Bellinson, één van de beroemdste klarinettisten van zijn tijd, werkte ook als componist en arrangeur. Voor zijn Suite bewerkte hij de oorspronkelijke composities van Grzegorz Fitelberg, Jacob Weinberg en Boris Levenson.

De klarinettist Wolfgang Meyer is een voortreffelijke musicus, maar zijn toon had voor mij wat warmer mogen klinken.

Bijna alle composities op deze cd beleven hier hun wereldpremière. Het zijn fascinerende werken, een reminiscentie van de wereld die onherroepelijk verloren is gegaan. Jewish Songs Without Words is de vierde cd in een reeks, die Jascha Nemtsov voor Hånssler maakte en zoals altijd is zijn vertolking niet alleen onberispelijk maar ook hartverwarmend.

Grigori Krejn, Julian Krejn, Israel Brandman, Simeon Bellinson
Jewish Songs Without Words
Wolfgang Meyer (klarinet), Jascha Nemtsov (piano)
Hänssler Classic CD 93.094


JOSEPH ACHRON. Muziek om verliefd op te worden