Early Music - Klezmer Style
Having heard Joshua Horowitz's tsimbl playing on Adrianne Greenbaum's FleytMuzik and Alicia Svigals' Fidl - Klezmer Violin, and also having read about Horowitz's work with his ensemble Budowitz and various other collaborations, I had been extremely eager to hear more of this quite phenomenal musician's output. And so it gave me great pleasure to finally get hold of several of his recordings at once, including Bessarabian Symphony by Rubin & Horowitz. What treats were waiting for me to discover!
Bessarabian Symphony is an exquisite example of "Early Klezmer Music", klezmer music played authentically in the style and manner it was performed in in the 19th to early 20th centuries in Eastern Europe, often (as, at least in part, here, and for example on Adrianne Greenbaum's superb FleytMuzik which also features Joshua Horowitz) on period instruments. In many ways this is reminiscent of the Early Music movement here in Britain (and elsewhere, I dare say) during the 1970s and beyond and artists such as the late David Monrow and Christopher Hogwood and their respective ensembles, especially in the meticulous research essential to such undertakings, and the great sensitivity and artistry required to make the music come alive instead of being merely sterile museum pieces. Devotion to as well as great enthusiasm for this task is abundantly evident here, and the technical virtuosity of the artists is beyond question. The album also features very extensive and highly informative liner notes, expertly written by Joshua Horowitz and Joel Rubin, as well as a superbly fitting, attractively designed cover, after an early 19th century painting by Wincenty Smokowski. It is so particularly, even peculiarly, fitting precisely because it at once confronts the beholder with an archetypally stereotypical portrayal of how Jews were perceived by gentile European society of the time, and in doing so, it contributes to the sense of being taken back in time that the music purveys. Of course, the music has to stand - or fall - on its own strength alone, and there can be no question in this reviewer's mind that it stands up beautifully.
Bessarabian Symphony was recorded in late 1993 and first released 1994 on the Spectrum/Wergo label. It features Joel Rubin on C-clarinet and tsimbl (on one track), and Joshua Horowitz on button accordion and tsimbl. The album is organized into suites, as was the practice in the past. The duo format lends the album great intimacy and immediacy, even a certain, almost irresistible, seductive charm. Some tracks almost compel you to get off your seat and jump up and dance, and often, the mood gets more reflective, sometimes melancholy - the full gamut of the emotions is explored. There is a great spirituality also, one that transcends any particular faith or even lack thereof. The tsimbl (hammered dulcimer or cimbalom) used by Joshua Horowitz on Bessarabian Symphony has a beautiful bright, crisp sonority, as clear, bright and sparkling as a mountain stream rushing down from a glacier on a bright sunny day, reminiscent of the tone of Persian santurs rather than the dark, dull sound of the Hungarian type of cimbalom. Horowitz, by turns, cajoles, teases, caresses, makes love to, his tsimbl as he might a somewhat shrewish lover. And make no mistake about it, the often (wholly unjustly) underrated tsimbl (and its kin) is very much a shrew, one that Petruchio might not find as easily tamed as Katharina. But Horowitz asserts his mastery, as indeed he does on his 19th century button accordion. Joel Rubin makes his clarinet sing joyfully as well as cry and weep, with a beautiful tone in each register (you could even be forgiven for thinking the problems of the throat register of the clarinet had been eliminated). The result of this mix is pure magic.
This album is consistent throughout, with not a single weak track. The arrangements are all by Joel Rubin and Joshua Horowitz, except track 20 by Joshua Horowitz, and bear further testimony to Rubin & Horowitz's great musicianship and skill and sensitivity. If I could have only one "early klezmer music" album in my collection, it would have to be a toss-up between Adrianne Greenbaum's FleytMuzik and Rubin & Horowitz's Bessarabian Symphony - alas, there'd just be no fair way of choosing between the two for me.
Go on, treat yourself if you possibly can!
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