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
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.