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Lazar WEINER (1897-1982)
The Art of Yiddish Song
Yosl Klezmer (1939) [2:13]
Yidish (1946) [1:25]
Ergets vayt (1936) [2:10]
Ikh hob far dir a sod (1945) [1:46]
A Nign [2:53]
Shtile Likht (1956) [2:02]
Got geyt mir nokh umetum (1973) [2:22]
Khoyves [1:57]
Got un mentsh (1973) [1:34]
Tsela-Tseldi (1922) [2:21]
Der Sholem-Zokher (1973) [4:27]
Toybnshtile [2:30]
Viglid [2:49]
Fun vayte teg (1977) [1:46]
Bald vet zany a regn (1965) [0:45]
A papir vil bageyn zelbstmord (1965) [1:05]
Der Yid mitn fidl (1956) [3:13]
Baym bentshn likht (1974) [1:56]
A gebet [1:32]
Shtile tener (1918) [2:09]
A foter tsu zany zun [2:26]
Volt mayn tate raykh geven (1918) [1:44] 
Dos reyd funem novi [4:38]
Ovnt-Lid (1968) [2:25]
Gramen geshribn in zamd (1956) [3:18]
Ikh hob dikh shoyn lang (1976) [1:28]
Viglid (1925) [2:46]
Dos gold fun dayne oygn (1922) [1:56]
Di mayse mit der velt (1930) [3:25]
Ikh bin der vaynrib (1965) [1:29]
Unter dayne vayse shtern (1950) [3:13]
Yidn zingen ani mamin (1973) [3:14]
Raphael Frieder; Ida Rae Cahana; Meir Finkelstein; Elizabeth Shammash; Robert Abelson; David Ossenfort; Harold Orbach; Re’ut Ben Ze’ev; Susan Davenny-Wyner (singers)
Yehudi Wyner (piano)
Barry Snyder (piano)
rec. Lefrac Concert Hall, Colden Centre for the Arts, Flushing, New York, 2001; Kilbourne Hall, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, December 1992; Sprague Hall, Yale University CT, May 1972; Gateway Studios, Surrey, UK, July 2000
NAXOS MILKEN ARCHIVE 8.559443 [74:14]

 

Lazar Weiner was a pre-eminent Yiddish art composer. Born in Cherkassy in the Ukraine he studied choral singing as a boy at the Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev. At eleven he was also singing in the Kiev opera chorus but anti-Semitic unrest led to his emigration to America in 1914. Once there he quickly became an accompanist and moved in the circle of Yiddish poets, not least in the numerous salons that flourished at the time. It was in fact in New York, and not in the Ukraine, that Weiner immersed himself in Yiddish culture. Along the way he studied with some important composers and teachers – Robert Russell Bennett and Frederick Jacobi - and began work for choruses, societies and synagogues. The Workmen’s Circle Chorus, founded just before the First World War, was his major focus for thirty-five years – he wrote his choral music for it and conducted the chorus.

His Yiddish songs number over two hundred and the Naxos Milken Archive gives us a good selection of thirty-two. It offers a fair perspective from which to glean something of his musical imperatives in songs that span his compositional life, from 1918 to 1977.

The Yiddish literary revival in New York meant that he could choose from among the many of his gifted contemporaries. And he chose to set a number of poets whose names will mean little to those outside the milieu but whose names certainly resonated powerfully at the time. Weiner may have come to regard some of the more stylised early settings as a touch archaic and backward looking but they do have vigour and animation. He began then with folkloric material but moved onto more cosmopolitan settings. The surprising thing for a listener is that the influence is decidedly French, in those settings that strike sparks. There’s little obvious Russian influence here – no Rubinstein or Grechaninov or Rachmaninov that one can detect – though there are some Mussorgskian moments in such as Viglid, a cradle song (track 13).

The songs offer some tart Klezmer opportunities and evocative folkloric ones. But track four - Ikh hob far dir a sod – which dates from as late as 1945 offers Debussian piano writing of unmistakeable lineage. Impressionism is in fact a strong element throughout. There are dissonances in the piano writing – the setting of Got un Mentsh [God and Man] offers up its fair share; and there is also some fiercely declamatory writing as well. On the debit side some of the strophic writing wears badly and some of the songs veer toward the melodically nondescript.

The performers - and there are a lot of them - are a very varied bunch. Some are excellent and others far less acceptable. Some struggle technically and some have a resinous and metallic vocal production that will put off unsympathetic auditors. Nasal and adenoidal singers have their own cachet, doubtless, but the more ingratiating singers bring the best results.

As usual there are voluminous notes offering a huge amount of detail. The recordings vary; a few were obviously recorded on amateur set-ups back in 1972 and these have a fair degree of tape hiss. But the vast majority sound splendid. 

Jonathan Woolf

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