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Traditional Cantorial and Concert Favourites
Joseph RUMSHINSKY
(1881 – 1956) David ROITMAN (1884 – 1943) arr. Simon SPIRO
Ba’avur David (2)
Moishe OYSHER (1907 – 1958) arr. Simon SPIRO Ha lahma anya (1)
Rabbi Israel GOLDFARB (1879 – 1956) arr. Simon SPIRO Sholom Aleikheim (1)
TRADITIONAL arr. Roderick. WILLIAMS Ya Ribbon Olam (2)
Samuel MALAVSKY (1893 – 1985) arr. Simon SPIRO Haven Yakkir Li Efra’im (3)
Sholom KHALIB (b. 1929), Meyer MACHTENBERG (1884 – 1979) arr. Simon SPIRO Sheva B’rakhot (2)
Joshua LIND (1890 – 1973) Khanike Lid (2)
Zavel ZILBERTS (1881 – 1949) Rhamana d’anei (1, 4)
Maurice GOLDMAN (1910 – 1984) Strange Happenings: The Holyday
Calamities of Avremele Melamed (2)
Cantor Simon Spiro
Schola Hebraeica (1)
Coro Hebraeico (2)
New York Cantorial Choir (3)
Ne’ima Singers (4)
Neil Levin (conductor)
Recorded February/July 2001, All Saints Church, East Finchley; New West End Synagogue, London; St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge; Riverside Church, New York; St. Paul’s School, Hammersmith
NAXOS 8.559460 [60.18]


Whereas discs by Cantor Benzion Miller, in the Naxos Milken Archive series, attempt to re-capture the cantorial styles prevalent in pre-war Europe and America, this disc by Cantor Simon Spiro is firmly rooted in the present. An accomplished composer and arranger, Spiro has produced new arrangements for many of the pieces on the disc.
Spiro performs both cantorial and popular music - he has even played the lead role in Phantom of the Opera in the Far East; his voice is easier on the ear than cantors on other discs in this series but he yields nothing in virtuosity. The repertoire is taken from concert items, so they are intended to entertain as well as instruct but always providing showpiece interest for the cantor’s skill.

The first piece, Ba’avur David is one of the most familiar in the American cantorial repertoire, though ironically its exact origins are unknown. It was popularised via a recording by David Roitman so it is assumed that Roitman had a hand in producing the work. Spiro has produced a new arrangement especially for this disc.
Moishe Oysher was both a hazzan (cantor) and a stage performer in the Yiddish theatre. In the 1950s he produced an LP for entertainment and educational purposes. Ha Lahma Anya comes from this disc, it is a setting of text taken from the Passover Haggada, texts that are recited at the seder. Oysher’s original version used instruments but Simon Spiro’s rather effective arrangement uses only choral accompaniment.

Rabbi Israel Goldfarb’s tune for Shalom Aleikhem became so popular in the early 20th century that it took on the garb of a folk-tune and has eclipsed all other settings of this text. The text is one of the Sabbath "table hymns" sung before, during and after the festive Sabbath meal. Again, it is performed in an arrangement by Simon Spiro.

The song Ya Ribbon Olam is sung in an arrangement of three different traditional melodies. Haven yakkir li efra’im is a concert piece which has its origins in a liturgical text, but from the early 20th century American cantors realised the text’s dramatic possibilities for concert use. Samuel Malavsky was a prominent cantor but his setting, which Spiro sings in his own arrangement, was written for concert use.

The substantial Sheva B’rakhot is an arrangement by Spiro based on two different compositions. One by Sholom Kalib for cantor and organ was used by Spiro for the first five stanzas, two are based on a composition by Meyer Machtenberg. But Spiro has elaborated the harmonies of both pieces and added some of his own material. The result is undeniably attractive and convincing.

Joshua Lind’s Khanike Lid is a choral setting of a traditional Yiddish poem; the version sung here preserves the simple directness of Lind’s original without trying to elaborate the harmonies. Zavel Zilberts’s Rahamana d’anei is on an altogether more elaborate plane. Zilberts was an acclaimed choral conductor and composer and was the only major American composer of liturgical music who had been a music director in an Eastern European chor shul (Choral Synagogue).

Spiro finishes the disc in a lighter vein with an arrangement by Maurice Goldman of a traditional eastern European Jewish folk tale.

This is an attractive and well chosen programme. Spiro’s voice is pleasant on the ear and it is easy to appreciate his virtuosity. The popular element in the items included means that the disc is not as heavy going as some of the more serious volumes in this series. The choral arrangements are all very well done; though, as usual in this sort of repertoire, I find the discrepancy between the traditional outlines of the solo vocal line and the very 20th century Romantic accompaniments rather noticeable. All the choirs on the disc are excellent and provide Spiro with good support. The disc comes with the usual superb line notes; I can highly recommend this to anyone who would like to explore what might, for them, be an unknown area of repertoire.

Robert Hugill

 

 



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