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Perlman Plays Klezmer
CD 1
In the Fiddler’s House
Reb Itzik's Nign [6:00]
Simkhes Toyre Time [3:22]
Flatbush Waltz [6:11]
Wedding Medley [5:07]
Dybbuk Shers [4:45]
Basarabye [6:55]
Firn Di Mekhutonim Aheym [5:33]
Tati Un Mama Tants [5:48]
Fisherlid/Klezmatics Khosidl [6:24]
Der Alter Bulgar & Forshpil [5:50]
Ale Brider [3:43]
Honga [2:47]
Doyna & Skotshna [3:31]
Der Heyser Bulgar [3:50]
Di Gayster [1:36]
CD 2
Live in the Fiddler’s House
Bukovina 212 [4:29]   
Lekho Neraneno [5:00]
Doina Naftule [2:43]
A Hora mit Branfn [3:24]
Healthy Baby Girl Hora [2:16]
Golem Tants [1:49]                 
Honga Encore [1:35]
Nign [5:32]
Bulgars/ The Kiss [5:07]
Meron Nign/ In the Sukke [6:02]
Sholom Aleykhem [4:33]
Khaiterma [2:55]
Andy’s Ride [2:55]
A Heymisher Bulgar/Wedding Dance [3:14]
Kale Bazetsn (Seating the Bride/Kusidl) (Khasidic Dance) [4:30]
Fun Tashlikh [3:01]
A Yingele fun Poyln (A young man from Poland)/i Mame is Gesangen in Mark Arayn (Mother went to market) [4:59]
Processional/ Klezmer Suite/Ale Brider [12:14]
Documentary - In the Fiddler’s House [55:00]
Itzak Perlman (violin)
Brave Old World, The Klezmaniacs, The Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra, The Klezmer Conservatory Band, and Red Buttons, Fyvush Finkel, Leopold Kozlowski (DVD)
rec. Disc 1: The Hit Factory, New York, 6-9 August 1995; Disc 2: Radio City Music Hall, New York, July 2 1996.
DVD video: region-free NTSC System 4:3
EMI CLASSICS 2070942 [2 CDs: 72:16 + 76:29; 55:00] 


Experience Classicsonline

I came into klezmer a little like Perlman. Classically trained as a flautist and having very little experience of the genre, a clarinettist friend of mine called out of the blue and asked if I was free to do a gig, as the trumpet player of their trio had left for Eastern Europe giving virtually no notice. Having been dropped into such a strange element, it’s taken a while to get used to the idiom and character of klezmer. The flute does crop up once or twice in this set, but is not a natural instrument for such ensembles, and I certainly have no Jewish background on which to draw. 

The DVD is the clue to the other discs in this set, with Perlman’s first Klezmer lesson forming part of the opening. All the way through you can see him absorbing the scales, structures and sonorities of the music of his own Jewish culture, culminating in a live New York performance – his final ‘audition’. The film is a very well put together documentary, showing how welcoming and willing the expert klezmer specialists are to work with Perlman, and also showing how the great violinist copes with and relishes each new experience. Some of the characters in the klezmer scene also do a few timeless turns, and the wit and humour around the dinner table is a joy to behold, with Red Buttons, Fyvush Finkel and others reminiscing and filling in some of the history of the klezmer. You can see him playing one of those electric non-body violins as well – it’s all great fun, and worth seeing more than once. 

The two other discs have both been released separately in the mid-1990s on the Angel label. Featuring four different bands, it’s actually worth starting with the live disc, since each set of four or five tracks is taken in sequence by each group, giving you the chance to become acquainted with their individual sounds and character. Each is quite traditional, but has their own different instrumentation and ‘soul’. Brave Old World is rich with accordion, dulcimer, bass and other instruments, The Klezmaniacs are a little tighter, more dance orientated and with piano and drum as part of the picture. The Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra combines elements of both of these, and the Klezmer Conservatory Band adds some healthy brass sounds to the mix. Excellent clarinet playing and some cracking singers are dotted throughout the disc, and Itzhak Perlman’s violin soars with refined and soulful elegance over everything – where appropriate: he’s certainly not everywhere, and a no point in this entire set do you have the feeling he’s taking over to the detriment of the other musicians. 

Part of the way these musicians feel about klezmer is the ‘keeping alive’ of a tradition. The term comes from the Hebrew words ‘kley zemer’, which refers to the musical instruments themselves. ‘Klezmorim’ is the name given to those who play the instruments. Originating in Europe as long ago as the 15th centrury, the traditions were ironically revived by ex-pat Jewish musical heroes such as Abe Schwartz, Harry Kandel, Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandwein, whose American 78rpm records re-imported the music of klezmer back into Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Much of the music is for dancing, and much if not all of it is concerned with aspects of wedding ceremonies. There is a sense of joy in much of the music, but, to my ears, almost always tinged with an air of melancholy. This is not to do with any association with the tragedies in Jewish history, but in the modes and scales used in the music, and also in the character of the playing – often with those little catches, slides and inflections which are derived directly from the emotional content of the singing voice. Working with the marvellous Lerner and Moguilevsky duo when they were in The Netherlands not so long ago, I learned a great deal about how much emotion can be laid on a single note – something which in reality happens very rarely in typical western ‘classical’ instrumental or even vocal music. More evidence of this can be found on Disc 1 of this set, which begins with an impassioned Reb Itzik’s Nign, not only in Perlman’s gorgeous violin solo, but in the downward bends of the clarinet, the whole thing being underpinned by one of those unforgettable and unmistakable, but ultimately somehow intangible klezmer progressions. CD 1 is a bit of a mixed bag, with the various ensembles hustled into a programme with a great deal of variety, from the slow, deceptive simplicity of the Flatbush Waltz and the remarkable Dybbuk Shers to the manic restlessness of the Basarabye. As with the live recording, there are plenty of tracks where Perlman’s violin takes a back seat or hardly appears at all, and the balance and recordings are all very good indeed. 

I happen to know that these recordings are rated pretty highly by hard-to-please and highly experienced klezmer musicians, and for my part I certainly have no criticisms to make. The only people likely to regard this as ‘klezmer for pussy-cats’ are those regularly exposed to hard-core klezmer in the klezmer dungeons of Poland and Moscow, and I only know one such person and he’s a bit of a pussy cat himself if the truth be known. There are some rather pop-orientated arrangements on Disc 1 but the feel of the music doesn’t suffer too much from the occasional note from an electronic keyboard or some possibly over-enthusiastic drumming, even in the rather drippy version of Fisherlid. Most importantly, Itzhak Perlman’s own sense of the music gives us an entirely different view of this grand figure of the classical music world, and he really ‘gets’ what the music is about – he has it in his blood, after all. If your experience of Jewish music goes no further than Hava Nagila but you would like to know more, then this has to be one of the best places to start. If you are a true fan of Itzhak Perlman you simply must have this set. There’s the marvellously entertaining DVD as an introduction, and a double feast of superbly played klezmer by some of the best exponents on the planet – or in the United States at least. Itzhak Perlman’s masterly and often humbly expressed contributions are the icing on the cake. 

Dominy Clements



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