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Gershon KINGSLEY (b. 1922)
Voices from the Shadow (1997) (Poetry of the Holocaust) [37:02]
Amy Goldstein (soprano); Mary Catherine George (soprano); Matthew Walley (tenor); Larry Picard (baritone); Derek Bermel (clarinet); Jorge Avila (violin); Robin Zeh (violin); Liuh-Wen Ting (viola); Sara Hewitt-Roth (cello); Milton Granger (piano); Gershon Kingsley (conductor)
Jazz Psalms (1966) [12:25]
Lisa Vroman (soprano); The Kingsley Singers; Harvey Estrin (flute); Patrick Rebillot (piano); John Beal (bass); Gordon Gottleib (percussion); Daniel Gottleib (percussion); Gershon Kingsley (conductor)
Shabbat for Today (1968) (excerpts) [12:33]
Cantor Howard M. Stahl; Harry Goz (narrator); The Kingsley Singers; Gershon Kingsley (synthesizers and conductor)
Shiru Ladonai (1970) (excerpts) [15:25]
Cantor Howard M Stahl; Lisa Vroman (soprano); The Kingsley Singers; Gershon Kingsley (synthesizers and conductor)
No recording details given

The works on this disc come from The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, a repository of Jewish music written in the USA, that its founder, Lowell Milken felt was in danger of being lost to the world.  His organisation has done sterling work in ensuring that these works are preserved for future generations. Naxos has enabled the public at large to have the opportunity of hearing them, and being a budget label, has made it possible for more people to do so than would have been the case had such works appeared on some obscure label with less exposure on the music scene.
Gershon Kingsley (born Goetz Gustav Ksinski in Germany in 1922) sees his own creative world as one in which “Mozart dances with the Beatles and Carl Jung struggles to reconcile the opposites of our human soul”.  However, if the works on this disc are typical of his output he should in no way be seen as any kind of a ‘crossover composer’ for although there are suggestions of ‘popular culture’ that emerge from the works they are indisputably serious in nature, content and origin.
He described the first composition on this disc, Voices from the Shadow, in the following terms: “One CANNOT write about Auschwitz.  One MUST write -write and write - about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.  It seems that when we are forced to walk that corridor between Life and Death, sources of creativity become readily available, and Life is compelled to express itself.”  That is certainly the case with this music – settings of 18 poems by concentration camp inmates, many of whom perished in them. The overriding feeling one is left with after hearing this work is of the unquenchable spirit of the human soul that will reach out and express itself whatever the conditions and however hard forces of evil may try to extinguish it. 
Both the music and often the words reminded me of Shostakovich’s “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and it has the same vitality, albeit tinged as it is with sorrow and suffering.  The harmonies are unmistakably Jewish and perfectly frame the words. The spare writing, set for just six instruments, highlights the poignant nature of the words.   Number 11 in the set, “Shlof  mayn kind” (Sleep, my child), for example includes the words: “Your mother would sing of golden stars and of the nightingale’s melody.  Now your mother grieves like a bird at an empty nest; Of your brothers – shadows of mounds of earth remain …”  This is wonderful music inspired by the most horrendous experiences and is another powerfully expressed example of how Man will triumph over whatever horrors are thrown at him.  
Jazz Psalms are two extracts Kingsley took from a commission to write three liturgical settings using the jazz idiom, originally entitled Three Hebrew Prayers in a Jazz Idiom.  They are extremely effective fusions of “American jazz idioms and traditional Hebrew character” and, as the writer Rabbi Joel Y. Zion put it, “… result in a new 20th century American Jewish musical expression.”  The recording was made with live jazz musicians and used no synthesized sounds.  Kingsley has captured the jazz idiom in a way that few composers of classical music have managed to do when they have explored the idiom in their compositions.
Shabbat for Today was an attempt to create a work for use in reform synagogues that would find more relevance with the younger generation than traditional liturgical works and established synagogue ritual.  As can be imagined this ran into a great deal of opposition from the older clergy and the more conservative places of worship.  It taps into what was then the new generation of “rock operas” with its synthesized sounds and does it very well. I trust it found favour with its intended audience as it certainly made me want to hear the complete work.
I was also left wanting to hear the whole of the final work on the disc, Shiru Ladonai, a welcome to the Sabbath, which was commissioned in 1970 and was originally scored for organ and moog synthesizer, but cantor David Putterman who had commissioned the work said after its premiere in which he had sung the solo part that it was a wonderful work but asked if “… we could do it without the Moog?”.  In this version it is scored mainly for orchestra, sadly un-credited, but with synthesizers too.  Once again the work shows Kingsley to be an extremely inventive composer whose other works I would most interested to explore.

The disc is accompanied by an extremely informative 27 page booklet with complete words to all the works and biographies of the poets of the first piece on the disc.
An invaluable addition to the burgeoning American Jewish Music archive and a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable disc.

Steve Arloff

see also reviews by Adam Binks and Glyn Pursglove


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