Brikele - Building Big Little Bridges
Released in 1997, Brikele - A Concert of Yiddish Songs was the first album by Mariejan van Oort, mezzo soprano and voice teacher, and Jacques Verheijen, pianist and composer, who have been working as a duo since 1993 and specialize in Yiddish song. They have a great natural affinity with this material, and a special predilection for poet and songwriter Mordekhay Gebirtig, whose work accounts for almost half of the selections on this album. Brikele, little Bridge in Yiddish, aims to be a bridge between the past and present but succeeds at being so much more. It is also a bridge between peoples, and between cultures.
Mariejan van Oort's lyrical mezzo voice floats seemingly effortlessly and is totally unforced, and is perfectly complemented by pianist Jacques Verheijen's sensitive accompaniments on piano, tsimbl (cimbalom or cymbalom) and guitar. Outstanding musicians of the highest caliber, van Oort and Verheijen present an outstanding collection of Yiddish songs on Brikele.
The album opens with a Gebirtig cradle song, Kivele, gentle, tender and loving. Ver der ershter vet lakhn - Who will be the first to laugh, is another Gebirtig song, light-hearted and humorous, about two boys and a bet between them. The classic Papirosn is given a beautifully original interpretation that emphasizes the song's deep pathos without ever getting overly sentimental or descending into melodrama. A third Gebirtig song follows, Hulyet, hulyet, kinderlekh, providing a good contrast with its lighter, playful mood and shades of longing, even occasional regret, with not a single nuance missed by Mariejan van Oort and underscored most effectively by Jacques Verheijen's wonderfully sensitive, understated tsimbl. Reyzele, another Gebirtig song, is a love song, light-hearted, joyous, sometimes teasing. Another classic song, Dos freylekhe shnayderl, sees the mood changing to bitter-sweet. Farvos veynstu, Sheyndele, the fifth of the Gebirtig songs on Brikele, tells of a young girl's telling her mother of her love for a poor taylor's apprentice, and thanks to Ms. van Oort's magical skills we're taken straight into their kitchen to witness the exchange between mother and daughter. One hardly dares breathe, lest the pair be alerted to one's presence and the intimacy be destroyed. Based on liturgical chant, Elli, Elli, lomo azavtoni is a despairing cry to heaven in the face of persecution, utterly desolate, forsaken, given an intense, painful beauty by Mariejan van Oort. A zuniker shtral is a poem by Gebirtig, set to music sensitively by Jacques Verheijen, remaining utterly faithful to the "feel" of Gebirtig. Here, the mood is forward-looking, hopeful even. The mood turns somber again, utterly despairing even, on Shlogt der zeyger eyns. Anger comes to the fore on Khapt im, nemt im, a traditional song about the victim of a thief. Hirsh Lekert is a ballad about the first and most courageous martyr of the Jewish workers' movement, the Yidisher Arbeter Bund, set in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, at the beginning of the 20th century (C.E.). Workers in Vilna held an illegal demonstration on 1st May, 1902, that was brutally broken up by the police by order of the governor of Lithuania, one Von Wal. Hirsh Lekert, a member of the Yidisher Arbeter Bund and participant in the demonstration, made an attempt on the life of Von Wal a few weeks later and was subsequently hanged. A story as relevant today as ever. Poetic and lyrical, Kholemen khaloymes provides a dreamy contrast. But the mood quickly turns again with Im droysn iz finster, a bitter tale of exploitation that could as well have been written at the beginning of the 21st century (C.E.). Dos alte porfolk, the seventh of the Gebirtig songs in this collection, is a touching husband and wife dialogue, beautifully duetted by Jacques Verheijen and Mariejan van Oort, of pain, suffering, regret, and of longing for final release. The last of the Gebirtig songs, Gehat hob ikh a heym, with music by Gorovets, is another dark and bitter tale of persecution and of lives destroyed. Yet, the mood turns darker still with Babi Yar, about the infamous Nazi massacre near Kiev in 1941. As beautiful as it is unbearable. Fortunately and in my opinion wisely, van Oort and Verheijen didn't end the album on such an utterly disconsolate note. Instead, they continued with one more song, Shpil zhe mir a lidele af yidish, and with the hope that is embodied in its lyrics. That hope is as sorely needed today as it ever was. Sadly, it is perhaps also as forlorn as it ever was.
Overall, in addition to the excellence of the performance by Mariejan van Oort and Jacques Verheijen, another thing that makes this album so striking is just how thoroughly modern and utterly relevant all these songs still are today. Oy vey! How little things have changed!
The informative liner notes of Mariejan van Oort and Jacques Verheijen's Brikele are excellent and include full lyrics for all songs in romanised Yiddish and English translation.
Mariejan van Oort and Jacques Verheijen's first album of Yiddish songs is a wonderful collection and testimony to their world-class musicianship and natural affinity with this material. Brikele - A Concert of Yiddish Songs should be essential in any Yiddish song collection. Voice and piano arrangements by Jacques Verheijen of all the songs on Brikele (as well as separate volumes for each of Mariejan van Oort and Jacques Verheijen's other albums) are available through their web site.
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