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Cantor Benzion Miller – Cantorial Concert Masterpieces
David ROITMAN (1884-1943)

Hayyom T’amtzeinu
Israel SCHORR (1886-1935)

Sheyyibane Beit Hammikdash *
Ribbon Ha’olamim
Pierre PINCHIK (c.1893-1971)

Der Khazn un der Gabe
Pinchas JASSINOWSKY (1886-1954)

The Prophecy of Isaiah
David KUSEVITSKY (1911-1985)

Ezrat
Leib GLANTZ (1898-1964)

Kol M’kaddesh
Moshe GANCHOFF (1904-1997)

Hashir Shehalviyyim
Zavel ZILBERTS (1881-1949)

Havdala +
Aaron TISHKOWSKY (1899-1972)

Hammavdil #
William BOGZESTER (1904-1970)

Psalm of David
Cantor Benzion Miller (tenor)
Vienna Boys Choir#
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/National Orchestra of Catalonia/Elli Jaffe
Chorus Viennensis/Vienna Chamber Orchestra/Gerard Wirth#
Jorge Mester+
Oxford Philomusica/Marios Papadopoulos*
Recorded Centre Cultural de Sant Cugat, Barcelona, May 2000 except track 2 (The Warehouse, London, November 1998) tack 4 (Sala Sinfonica del Auditiri, Barcelona, June 2001) and track 10 (Baumgartner Casino, Vienna, May 2001)
NAXOS 8.559416 [78.22]

 

This release forms part of the Milken Archive releases of American Jewish Music. In addition the orchestrations of these cantorial works have been commissioned by the Archive and they serve to celebrate the American phase of development of the form (principally émigré cantors) that saw the rise of Concert hazzanut – those works designed for concert performances.

The soloist is Cantor Benzion Miller born in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in Germany but who studied in America and in Israel. Orchestral support was a common feature of the medium, one that was extensively practised (as recordings from the inter War heyday of the 1920s and 1930s vividly show). Most of the cantors wrote their own virtuosic pieces, encouraging orchestrators and copyists to fill in the supportive tissue so that they represent a combination of florid cantorial individuality and more generic material. Here Miller pays tribute to his cantorial forebears.

That said I think it was a mistake to start with Roitman’s Hayyom T’amtzeinu with its jog trot orchestration and neither-fish-nor-fowl singing which shows Miller constricted and strained at the top of his compass. Much better things follow with the first of Schorr’s settings showing how much more sympathetic Miller sounds when the vocal lines sit well for the voice. The explosive melismas and runs with finely taken divisions remind one how closely allied to the operatic this music can be – note the especially florid Pinchik song with its quasi-operatic end. A much more subtle example of the art is Jassinowsky’s The Prophecy of Isaiah which abjures the overtly expressive and gives us instead some very suitably Russian sounding orchestration. Kusevitsky was famed and rightly and his setting shows a confluence of both the Western and Eastern traditions. Tremolandi and pizzicato strings meanwhile animate Schorr’s Ribbon Ha’olamim and one of the most concise and sheerly impressive settings is Glantz’s and it contrasts strongly with the Russo-Italianate influences on the Zilberts. There are longeurs – the Ganchoff for instance and parts of the Schorr, which tend to pile on volcanic melismas – but there are also incongruities. The Vienna Boys Choir turn up for the penultimate piece, by Aaron Tishkowsky (I find it hard to view the conjunction with anything other than an arched eyebrow, all things considered), and the romantic cadences in the Bogzester are very strong.

The disc collates performances, noted above, with different orchestras and locations. Sometimes the acoustic is unsympathetic – I had on one or two occasions the eerie feeling that there was separate tracking of voice and band. Miller meanwhile, when the song sits comfortably, displays virtuosic flair and florid drama as well as some reflective gentleness. In the midst of it all though I turned to my Pearl LPs and played Hermann Fleishmann’s Toras Haschem T’mino - the Mendelssohnian nobility of it came as a kind of balm.

Jonathan Woolf



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