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Chants Juifs pour violoncello et piano
Traditional, arr. Jean-Francois ZYGEL (b. 1960) Kol Nidre [5:27]; Prier [3:55]; Elegie [5:41]
Jean-Francois ZYGEL Nigun [3:59]; Psalmodie [4:00]; Shema [3:12]
Traditional, arr. Sonia WIEDER-ATHERTON Question [2:37]; Conversation [2:55]; Chanson [2:15]; Kaddish [5:08]; Incertitude [2:50]; Danse [2:12], Chant Hassidique [3:56]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959) Nigun [6:05]; Priere [4:11]; Supplication [2:14]; Jewish Song [2:15]; Méditation Hébraïque [5:52]
Sonia Wieder-Atherton, cello
Daria Hovora, piano
Rec. Abbaye de Roumont, January 1989; Theatre de Poissy, September 1996 DDD
BMG FRANCE 74321 425332 [69:41]

There are few cultures with traditions handed down that are older than that of the Jews. Certainly few cultures have been able to stand through as much adversity or drama. Thus the traditional Hebrew music is rife with haunting liturgical and popular melodies. Many of these songs are simply haunting works expressing the pain of human existence. Alternatively there are centuries of songs conveying the beauty of life and moving the listener to literally get out of their seat and dance. This collection of works by Sonia Wieder-Atherton and Daria Hovora attempts to mine this rich musical heritage and pass on to us many of these wonderful works.

There are actually two distinct collections released on this CD. The first collection, recorded in 1989, presents mostly traditional works, augmented by three completely original pieces written in the traditional style by Jean-Francois Zygel. At the end of the disc is a selection of works from Ernest Bloch, recorded some seven years later by the same performers. These were inspired by ancient Hebrew music as well, though written in 1923 and 1924. They slide seamlessly into this collection. What can be said, however, is that the Bloch compositions are more theoretically complex and texturally rich. Perhaps this is due to the desire of the arrangers to highlight the simple beauty of the ancient melodies. Perhaps it is a matter of simple aesthetics, differences in taste from one writer to another. Regardless, the works blend together nicely, and the final few selections are certainly among the best on the album.

The majority of these are for cello accompanied by piano. There are, however, occasions for cello solos which encompass entire songs. Wieder-Athertonís performances are emotionally charged throughout, and she is ably accompanied by the veteran chamber-music specialist Daria Hovora. On the slower works, the emotional beauty this pairing is capable of is truly inspiring. On the faster works, Wieder-Atherton shows herself technically very capable. Indeed, the traditional "Danse" is one of the highlights of the album, both because so much of the rest of the disc is so serious and because her prowess is so exquisitely shown.

Additionally, if the collection of songs is to be transferred away from the human voice, the emotive cello is certainly a good recipient for that transition.

If there is a complaint to be made of the album, it would be that there is such a tendency to gravitate toward the more serious or somber melodies. There is a bit too much emphasis on the heavy-laden composers. If there were just one or two more moments of levity or exuberance the listener would be less exhausted at the end of the experience.

That said, this is a very good album of music with which most listeners will not be familiar. This disc is a rare treat, and one that most who enjoy the sound of small chamber groups would certainly enjoy.

Patrick Gary

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