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Sholom KALIB (b. 1929) The Day of Rest
Abraham KAPLAN (b. 1931) Psalms of Abraham
Cantor Naftali Herstik
Cantor Shimon Craimer
Vienna Boys Choir
Chorus Viennensis
Vienna Chamber Orchestra/Gerald Wirth
Recorded Baumgartner Casino, Vienna, Austria, 7-19 May 2001; Casino Zoegernitz, Vienna Austria, May 2000
NAXOS 8.559419 [66.17]

 

In 1971, Cantor Jerome B. Kompar founded a children’s chorus under the auspices of his congregation in Dayton, Ohio. It was known as the Beth Abraham Youth Chorale and was devoted to the rendition of Jewish and Judaically-related classical music at a time when the winds of Jewish musical fashion were coming to be dominated by more popular sounds.

In the choir’s 12 years of existence, they commissioned music from a number of contemporary composers. The two works on this disc were amongst the music commissioned. Both works were originally written for three upper voice parts but for this recording, the works have been arranged to include adult male voices.

Sholom Kalib was born in Dallas but his uncle and grandfather were cantors in the traditional Eastern European mold. Kalib has specialised in notating and publishing the largely unwritten music of an earlier generation of Cantors. A cantor himself, he also writes and arranges for his own use and for use in synagogues. His Day of Rest is a concert setting of text from three sections of the Sabbath liturgy for Friday evening (kabbalat shabbat and arvit), Saturday morning (shaharit, the Tora service and mussaf) and the concluding service on Sunday evening. There are 19 numbers in all and six are included on this recording. The music is in a tuneful, folk-influenced idiom and when not trying too hard is rather pleasing. Some numbers such as Uv’nuho Yomar strain for a bigger, more Romantic idiom and do not always succeed in their intentions. I am afraid that, attractive though they are, I found that some of the longer numbers, Uv’nuho Yomar and Havdala, rather outstay their welcome as the musical material is not strongly developed.

Tel Aviv born Abraham Kaplan is a distinguished choral trainer; he collaborated for many years with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. In 1977 he became director of choral studies at the University of Washington. His compositions include a complete Sabbath service. Psalms of Abraham is a cantata consisting of twelve settings of excerpts from the Psalms. It was premiered in 1980. Like the other work on the disc, Psalms of Abraham is written in a melodic, folk-influenced style. The individual movements are attractive, but I felt that with the total of twelve movements was rather too many and that the piece ran out of steam before the end, partly because, like Kalib, Kaplan does not overly develop his material. This is probably because neither composer felt confident in giving the chorus anything too taxing to do.

The pieces receive attractive performances from the Vienna Boys Choir and the Chorus Viennensis but the standard of choral singing is not always up to the level that we expect from this group.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about these works. Their recording preserves an important aspect of the performance of the Jewish liturgy, but neither composer has completely transcended the limitations placed on them by having to write for children’s chorus. That said, I hope that this recording might encourage choirs to widen their repertoire and experiment with these pieces.

Robert Hugill

 

 

 



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