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Gershon KINGSLEY (b.1922)
Voices from the Shadow (Poetry of the Holocaust) [37:02]
Jazz Psalms [12:25]
Shabbat for Today (excerpts) [12:33]
Shiru Ladonai (excerpts) [15:25]
Amy Goldstein, Mary Catherine George, Lisa Vroman (soprano)
Mathew Walley (tenor)
Larry Picard (baritone)
Howard M. Stahl (cantor)
Kingsley Singers and Ensemble/Gershon Kingsley (conductor and synthesizers)
rec. May 1992, New York (Jazz Psalms, Shabbat for Today and Shiru Ladonai); March 2001, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City. DDD
NAXOS 8.559435 [77:35]

There have been some notable and extremely useful releases in this Naxos series of American Jewish Music issued in conjunction with the Milken Archive. Among the most noteworthy are ‘Leonard Bernstein: A Jewish Legacy’ and ‘Dave Brubeck: The Gates of Justice’. This recent offering of the music of Gershon Kingsley is not quite on the same level, being an uneven mix in terms of interest.
 
Written in 1997, the main work, Voices from the Shadow (Poetry of the Holocaust), represents some of the most interesting music of the recording. A fascinating amalgam of musical styles is combined with some extremely poignant, passionate, desperate and hopeful texts, all written in concentration camps or by prisoners who survived. Using six different languages - Yiddish, German, Polish, Czech, French and English - the version recorded here does not include the narration that forms the remainder of this piece of musical theatre. The effect is still arresting and at times unsettling and enormously thought-provoking. The main influence of musical theatre is clear, but a strong aspect of romanticism can also be heard – and in particular romantic song – along with an unmistakable and distinct element of traditional Jewish individuality. Compelling, impassioned and most of all sensitive performances bring Voices from the Shadow to the fore in this disc, with an appropriate ensemble of fine musicians, directed by the composer himself.
 
The remainder of the disc does not live up the expectations created by Voices, the two halves of the disc being almost entirely at odds with each other. A disappointing recorded sound, in which the singers can barely be heard above the warm and clear instruments, particularly the percussion and bass, is to detriment of the overall effect of the Jazz Psalms. This is an interesting experiment; however, the jazz aspect, while present in some of the improvisatory passages, is evidently steered towards music theatre by the choral element.
 
For all the enthusiasm and tight ensemble of The Kingsley Singers, there is an unfortunate, rather unrefined and flat resultant sound, along with an excess of vibrato. All of this contributes to the failure of any of the final three works (Jazz Psalms, excerpts from Shabbat for Today and excerpts from Shiru Ladonai) to come to life. The consequential effect of synthesizers combined with a cantor and a choir in Shabbat for Today and Shiru Ladonai, is slightly disconcerting, particularly with a poor balance between the electronic sound and the live singers, providing an unsatisfactory clash of genres. A wide range of influence is once again evident in both these works, but the combination of each strand of stimulus isn’t always as convincing as one would wish.
 
Some of the music presented isn’t all that appealing but the disc cannot be written off – Voices from the Shadow is definitely worth having.
 
Adam Binks
 
see also review by Glyn Pursglove

 

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