The Jewish Music Research Centre is proud to reprint here reviews of two recent JMRC discs found in the 2016 edition of the Yearbook for Traditional Music. Both discs were reviewed by Hankus Netsky.
Vemen vestu zingen, vemen? Leibu Levin Performs in Yiddish: Select Archival Recordings from Bukovina, USSR and Israel. 2015. Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel 25. Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem AMTI 0115. Mastered by Yuval Amit. Annotated by Michael Lukin. Produced by Edwin Seroussi. 204-page book with notes in English, Russian, and Hebrew. English and Hebrew translations by Tova Shani, Russian translations by Valery Dymshits and Michael Lukin. English translations of selected poems by Itzik Nakhmen Gottesman, Hebrew translations of selected poems by David Kriksunov, Russian translations of selected poems by Valery Dymshits, Alexandra Glebovskaia, and Igor Bulatovskii. B/w photographs, bibliography. CD, 20 tracks (70:18).
This extraordinary CD documents the work of Leibu Levin, a singer, actor, “melodic and dramatic declamation” artist, poet, and songwriter from the southern Bukovina, who survived both the Holocaust and the Siberian gulag, eventually immigrating to Israel in 1972. It includes home recordings and recordings from the archives of Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel Radio) and the Music Archives of Israel’s National Library. It was Levin’s daughter, Ruth, a talented performer in her own right, who led a campaign starting in the early 1980s to bring her father’s work out of obscurity. Thirty-five years later, this collection is the result of her labours, beautifully packaged with informative notes by Michael Lukin and excellent English translations by Itzik Gottesman and others. It is hard to imagine a better window into the highbrow Yiddish culture of the early twentieth century.
Who was Leibu Levin? Clearly not the “Yiddish Schubert,” as some of his contemporaries called him, for his musical style seems to have owed a great deal more to such 1920s popular Russian and European composers as Petersburgski, Vertinski, and the Pokrass brothers—as well as a wandering bard or two. As Lukin mentions, American Yiddish composer laureate Lazar Weiner created alternative settings of some of these same texts, versions the musically erudite might prefer. But musical style and erudition is ultimately not the point of this CD: it is about the extraordinarily rich world of Yiddish poetry, Levin’s incredible perseverance, and the determination of other keepers of the Yiddish flame from his generation. He can be playful at times, but much of his world is cloudy and grey, his delivery often reminiscent of a monologue in a Beckett play, his every utterance an act of proud defiance. Kudos to Israel’s Jewish Music Research Centre for finally making his work available to a broader public.
Or Haganuz: Gems of Ashkenazi Hazzanut and Yiddish Songs Revived. 2015. Contemporary Jewish Music 4. Jewish Music Research Centre, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ron Shulamit Conservatory, Jerusalem CJM1501. Annotated by Eliyahu Schleifer. Produced by Edwin Seroussi and Yuval Shaked. 76-page booklet with notes in English and Hebrew. English translation by Tova Shani. CD, 8 tracks (43:43).
This CD, the fourth in the Contemporary Jewish Music series, put out by the Jewish Music Research Centre at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, pairs distinguished Cantor Asher Hainovitz with eminent Hungarian-born Israeli composer Andre Hajdu in a programme that includes eastern European classics of khazones (cantorial music), Yiddish folksongs and art songs, and an original setting by Hajdu of a sacred text. Like all CDs from Israel’s Jewish Music Research Centre, it includes extensive notes written, in this case, by three Jewish music scholars and by Andre Hajdu himself. Hajdu’s notes clearly and unpretentiously outline his musical journey to the recording, and Eliyahu Shleifer provides useful commentary on each selection.
The other introductory notes, unfortunately, make quite a few over-reaching claims that reference: the uniqueness of the approach found on the recording (many others have re-contextualized cantorials and have provided high-level original instrumental accompaniment); the superiority of Hainovitz and Hajdu’s interpretations compared to those found on classic khazones recordings; and the comprehensive nature of the Jewish music collection in Israel’s National Library (although it is indeed a very large one). In terms of the recorded content, some of the interpretations are a bit slow, a predilection of post-Holocaust cantorial interpretations, and there are moments when Cantor Hainovitz’s intonation falters, possibly because of Hajdu’s challenging accompaniment. There is also one moment toward the end of “A Dudele” where the cantor falls behind rhythmically.
Still, the recording is a significant one. It gives us a glimpse into the music one of Israel’s most influential composers might have produced had he chosen the career path of a synagogue-based musician. Hajdu’s playing (when he takes control of the accompaniment) is impassioned and original. Especially on the final track, Hainovitz lives up to the promise the notes make to “bring cantorial music to a new level.”