Shostakovitch Song Cycle "From Jewish Folk Poetry" in Yiddish
Back in 1984, the first London Jewish Music Festival presented Dimitri Shostakovitch's Song Cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, Opus 79, in a translation from Russian back into Yiddish. Shortly afterwards, it was recorded with the same performers, Helen Lawrence, soprano, Carole Rosen, mezzo soprano, Louis Garb, tenor, and Antony Saunders, piano, and released on audio cassette by B'nai B'rith Recordings. Limited quantities of this historic release are still available from Jewish Music Distribution UK (for further details please see "Purchasing Info" below), and if there is sufficient demand, this may also be re-issued on audio CD. The other work featured on this recording is excerpts from Samuel Alman's Yiddish opera King Ahaz, with the same performers with the addition of Louis Berkman, baritone.
Produced by composer and conductor Malcolm Singer, the quality is perhaps a touch uneven, more so on the Shostakovitch than on the Alman, and could certainly benefit from digital remastering. That said, this is nonetheless a wonderful recording of far more than mere historical interest. The performances of both the Shostakovitch cycle and the Alman excerpts are quite magnificent, and Antony Saunders' piano accompaniments are particularly outstanding.
Shostakovitch wrote his song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, drawn from Russian translations of Yiddish folk poems, in 1948 in the wake of a wave of Soviet anti-Semitism and Stalinist repression, a dangerous gesture of solidarity. It received a private performance for Shostakovitch's birthday but was only published and premiered in public after Stalin's death in 1955. Adapted by the composer for orchestra in 1962, the Song Cycle Op. 79 reveals a deep instinctive affinity between Shostakovitch's musical language and Russian Jewish folk song, and it serves as a kind of Rosetta stone for his other works employing Jewish inflections and phraseology almost as an integral part of his natural vocabulary. Shostakovitch's own music here blends seamlessly with the Jewish and Russian-Jewish folk melodies he also employs, particularly in the songs The Thoughtful Father and Warning, testimony to how well he had internalised the idiom. The present recording of From Jewish Folk Poetry features the songs translated back into Yiddish from Russian. The performance is beautifully effective, with all the finest nuances of the varied and contrasting moods of these songs, from the dreamy to the mournful, from the joyous to the tragic, from the nostalgic to the forward-looking and optimistic, rendered sensitively and tenderly by the performers.
Samuel Alman, one of the best-known British composers of Jewish liturgical music, was born in Belarus in 1878 and came to Britain in 1905. He wrote his opera King Ahaz for the opening of the Feinman Yiddish People's Theatre in London's East End in 1912. Despite a successful and well-received premiere, this work was never staged again, so it is particularly gratifying to find a recording of some of the key arias even with just piano accompaniment. That "just" needs qualification - Antony Saunders' piano is superb. The vocal performances are excellent, and the trio in which Miriam, Naphtali and Alphalet give thanks to God is particularly fine.
The liner notes are excellent too and give a brief insight into both works as well as brief intros of the artists, and the cover features very evocative artwork by Anthony Auerbach.
All in all, this is a very pleasant, highly enjoyable recording that surely ought to have a place in any Shostakovitch collection as well as in any Jewish music collection, particularly one with any degree of focus on classical music and/or Yiddish song. A re-issue on CD would be most welcome indeed.
© 2004 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.
Dimitri Shostakovitch: Song Cycle: "From Jewish Folk Poetry", Op. 79
1. Lament on the Dead Child
2. The Thoughtful Father
4. Before The Seperation
6. The Abandoned Father
7. Song on Indigence
8. The Winter
9. A Fine Life
10. The Girl's Song
11. Good Fortune
Samuel Alman: King Ahaz - Excerpts From The Opera
1. Yehoshuva invokes vengeance against Oziel.
Carole Rosen, mezzo soprano
2. Naphtali reflects on the pleasures of life in King Solomon's days.
Louis Berkman, baritone
3. Miriam rejoices that Ahaz has been overthroen and that Oziel can now return to her.
Helen Lawrence, soprano
4. Miriam, Naphtali and Alphalet give thanks to God that Oziel can now return.
Helen Lawrence, soprano; Carole Rosen, mezzo soprano; Louis Berkman, baritone
5. Oziel still in exile in Lebanon longs for the happy days when he can rejoin his loved ones.>
Louis Garb, tenor
6. Finale. All join in prayer to God for peace and happiness.
Helen Lawrence, soprano; Carole Rosen, mezzo soprano; Louis Garb, tenor; Louis Berkman, baritone