Vessel Of Song - The Music Of Mikhl Gelbart
Released in late 2003, Lori Cahan-Simon's Vessel Of Song is another fine collection of Yiddish songs by this outstanding Yiddish singer. Sub-titled The Music Of Mikhl Gelbart, the album presents fifteen songs (two of which are medleys) by one of Yiddish song's greatest composers.
Born near Lodz, Poland in 1889, the son of a poor khazn (cantor), Gelbart started writing music for a theatre group he toured with between 1909 and 1911 before immigrating to the United States in 1912. There he continued his theatrical and compositional activities, eventually also teaching singing, first at the Workmen's Circle in New York. Mikhl Gelbart died of bone cancer in 1962 and is still remembered by many of his students with great affection. He left a huge body of work that includes six oratorios, fifteen operettas, eight orchestral pieces, and settings of the works of some one hundred and twenty poets. He also published some twenty books of Yiddish songs. Gelbart's music is of a deeply folk-rooted nature and thus was often assumed to be traditional folk music of anonymous origin. The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble's Vessel Of Song presents a superb if necessarily tiny cross-section of Gelbart's vast body of Yiddish songs.
The arrangements on Vessel Of Song are outstanding and spot-on traditionalist. Lori Cahan-Simon's ensemble consists of stellar klezmer and classical flautist Adrianne Greenbaum on historical wooden flutes, Alexander Fedoriouk, probably America's best-known cimbalom player whose credits include performing and recording with jazz flute legend the late Herbie Mann, on cimbalom, percussion and vocal, Walt Mahovlich, a member of an early incarnation of klezmer ensemble Budowitz and currently leader of Eastern European folk group Harmonia, on accordion and vocal, Steven Greenman, another early Budowitz member and co-founder of the Khevrisa ensemble, on violin and vocal, and Henry Shapiro of the Steel City Klezmorim on bass and vocal. With such an impeccable line-up and Ms. Cahan-Simon's outstanding vocals and supremely distinct diction, it is only to be expected that this should be the recording of the highest pedigree that it is. The ensemble playing is superb, and Lori Cahan-Simon's vocals are a delight.
The opener of Lori Cahan-Simon's Vessel Of Song is Urim burim: a purim lidl, a lively, happy song about the Purim holiday. A gut yontev yidn is another celebration of Purim, with a particularly fine violin solo by Steven Greenman. An altogether more somber mood prevails with Treyst mayn folk, with lyrics by the deeply socially conscious Yitskhok Leyb Peretz, one of the fathers of modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Moyde ani is another somber, reflective piece, the lyrics being by Mark Schweid. A medley of three songs for and about children, Boys and Girls Medley, switches back to a happier mood. The third of these, A yingele, a meydele, is a particularly jolly piece with an irresistible dance beat. The theme of children continues with Kumt ale in shul, and again with Muzikantn, the latter especially cheerful, the light-heartedness beautifully emphasised particularly by Adrianne Greenbaum's lively, happy flute. In shul arayn still remains with the subject of children, and the tune's likely Polish inspiration is reflected in the arrangement. An irresistibly happy tune, it prominently features violin, cimbalom, bass and drum. Good cheer continues to prevail on Khad gadyo, a humorous tale starting with a kid goat and ending with an ox and a butcher. Chanukah Medley is the second of two medleys, this one consisting of three delightful Chanukah songs. The Sabbath is celebrated with Shabes. One of the best-known of Gelbart's songs, Milkhome, with lyrics by Avrom Reisen, is also one of his most haunting, and Lori Cahan-Simon's rendition is suitably tragic and heart-rending. A setting of a poem from a cycle of children's poems by Peretz, A viglid (Shteyt in feld a beymele) is a gentle, dreamy lullaby, its qualities underscored subtly by Alexander Fedoriouk's cimbalom and especially Adrianne Greenbaum's wispy flute. In an orem shtibele is a mostly up-tempo song that contrasts material poverty and the riches of love, the love of a mother for her child. The closer of Lori Cahan-Simon's Vessel Of Song, A maysele (In himl shvimt a volkndl), opens with and features Adrianne Greenbaum's haunting flute and Alexander Fedoriouk's dreamy cimbalom alternating with the whimsical, lullaby-like lyrics.
The liner notes are no less excellent than the recording itself. In addition to the transliterated Yiddish lyrics and English translations, they feature a solid introduction to the life and work of Mikhl Gelbart. There are also fairly extensive notes on the lyricists. The only small niggle I have is the extremely small and dense print, which I find very difficult to read without the aid of a magnifier. However, as is the booklet contains some twenty-four pages, and the need for some economy is completely understandable.
As excellent an overview of the work of Mikhl Gelbart such as Lori Cahan-Simon's Vessel Of Song is not only beyond essential in any Yiddish song collection but moreover a priceless treasure.
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