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A Yiddish Winterreise - A Holocaust Survivor's Inner Journey Told Through Yiddish Song
see end of review for track listing
Mark Glanville (bass-baritone)
Alexander Knapp (piano)
rec. February 2008, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk
NAXOS 8.572256 [79:35]

Experience Classicsonline

An unusual disc title deserves explanation, though this disc’s somewhat clunky subtitle provides an answer of sorts. It is in essence ‘a sequence of songs from the Yiddish repertoire devised by opera singer and cantor Mark Glanville, recreating the original, Schubertian journey in a Holocaust context. The singer reflects on the life and world he has just seen destroyed as he flees the Vilna ghetto. Minor-key or modal melodies may evoke a sense of sadness, yet a deep-hearted joy, even triumph, are often equally evident.’ [Naxos]

The arranger of many here, and excellent pianist, Alexander Knapp analyses the salient features of much of the music – its indebtedness to mid nineteenth century ‘German classical harmony’ and its frequent adoption of the minor key, straightforward form and rhythm and the use of improvisatory passages. He has not sought to improve the original melodic lines but has responded to them in a personal way, whilst respecting their essence.

What emerges therefore is a sequence of songs, the poets or writers of which range chronologically from Levi Yitzchok, who was born in 1740. Mordecai Gebirtig, Abraham Brudno and Moshe Nadir died between 1942 and 1944. Both Aklexander Olshanetsky and Janot S. Roskin however died in 1946.

The disc opens with the sonorous declamation of the traditional Khosn bazingns (Singing for the Bridegroom) and then leads on to the journey proper where the poet’s town is ablaze. Fear, anger, and injunctions to quench the flames are the mileposts of this song but the journey is not all pogrom and flight. The putative wanderer’s mental journey takes in landscape and rabbi, hearth and home, parents and children, Messiah and orphan, the chosen texts illuminate his mind’s imaginative conjunctions and consonances between settings, a kind of sub-conscious or indeed conscious internalised self-communing.

Therefore there are nostalgic-romantic settings, of which the reverie that is Vilna is the most prominent. The jaunty settings of What Will Happen When the Messiah Comes and The Rabbi has Bid Us be Happy attest to a double laced irony, the injunction to ‘be happy’ sounding too much like an emotional forced march. Moments of self-pity, melismatic vehemence and fiery declamation fuse in Raisins and Almonds. The tenth setting is a of Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum, an infusion that conjoins the German with the Yiddish in which language it is set. Further in the journey the impassioned and anguished peaks reached in Habeit mishomayim (Look Down from the Heavens) attest to the tormented weight pressing on the traveller though he soon relaxes to the cimbalon evocations of Der rebe Elimelekh (Rabbi Elimelech). These lead to a series of songs on childhood of which Kleyner yosem (Little Orphan) is very beautifully and simply done. In the context the twenty first setting, Un a yingele vet zey firn (And a Little Boy Will Lead Them) has some quite striking, indeed startling harmonies in the context of the journey. This questing harmonic writing, which becomes more and more incursive, leads toward the penultimate song, that urges one never to forget to say Kaddish. This in turn leads to the final setting, a spoken recitation of the Kaddish, which not only acts as a cyclical corollary of the opening recitation but which also functions as an act of praise and of deliverance. This is a story of survival after all.

Glanville is the singer who guides us through this internalised human landscape. He is the orator and inquisitor, the mediator and the innocent. His voice rises to pitches of crises of recall; sinks into gauze-gentle recollections of childhood. It is the voice of rebuke and regret, the voice that embraces but must stifle self-pity. It is the voice that goes on.

He and Alexander Knapp form a harmonious ensemble and have been finely recorded. There are full English texts.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Khosn bazingns (Singing for the Bridegroom) - Traditional [2:10]
S'brent (It's Burning) – Mordecai Gebirtig (1877-1942) (arr. A. Knapp) [5:12]
A zemer (A Song) Samuel Bugatch (1898-1984) (arr. A. Knapp) [4:06]
Vilne (Vilna) Alexander Olshanetsky (1892-1946) (arr. A. Knapp) [3:45]
Oyfn pripetshik (By the Fireplace) - Mark Warshavsky (c.1845-1907) (arr. A. Knapp, C. Haran - Smith) [5:56]
Vos vet zayn az moshiach vet kumen (What Will Happen When the Messiah Comes) (arr. Max. Persin) [2:38]
Judische Volkslieder, Sammlung III (Jewish Folk Songs, 3rd Collection), Op. 13: No. Der rebe hot geheysen freylekh zayn (The Rabbi has Bid Us be Happy) - Janot S Roskin (1884-1946) [1:26]
Shulamis: Rozhinkes mit mandlen (Raisins and almonds) - Abraham Goldfaden (1840-1908) (arr. A. Knapp) [3:47]
Judische Volkslieder, Sammlung I (Jewish Folk Songs, 1st Collection), Op. 11: No. 26. Yerusholayim (Jerusalem) - Janot S Roskin (1884-1946) [3:08]
Winterreise, Op. 89, D. 911: No. 5. Der Lindenbaum (sung in Yiddish as Di lipe) - Franz Schubert (1797-1828) [5:24]
Tumbalalayke (Play, Balalaika) – traditional (arr. A. Knapp) [3:04]
Moyshele mayn fraynd (Moyshele, My Friend) – Mordecai Gebirtig (1877-1942) (arr. H. Anik) [5:38]
Hot a yid a vaybele (If a Jew has a Wife) Morris Goldstein (d.1906 (arr. J. Kammen) [1:01]
Unter dayne vayse shtern (Under Your White Stars) Abraham Brudno (d.1944) (arr. A. Knapp) [4:12]
Judische Volkslieder, Sammlung III (Jewish Folk Songs, 3rd Collection), Op. 13: No. 2. Khatskele - Janot S Roskin (1884-1946) [0:55]
Habeit mishomayim (Look Down from the Heavens) – S. Gozinsky (fl.1928) (arr. A. Knapp) [4:44]
Der rebe Elimelekh (Rabbi Elimelech) – Moshe Nadir (1885-1943) (arr. A. Knapp) [2:47]
Judische Volkslieder, Sammlung I (Jewish Folk Songs, 1st Collection), Op. 11: No. 5. Der zeyger (The Clock) - Janot S Roskin (1884-1946) [2:08]
Kinder yorn (Childhood Years) – Mordecai Gebirtig (1877-1942) (arr. J. Kammen) [3:13]
Kleyner yosem (Little Orphan) – Mordecai Gebirtig (1877-1942) (arr. A. Knapp) [4:35]
Un a yingele vet zey firn (And a Little Boy Will Lead Them) - traditional (arr. A. Knapp) [3:45]
A malekh vert geboyrn (A Child is Born) – Mordecai Gebirtig (1877-1942) (arr. A. Knapp) [3:17]
Kaddish - Traditional [2:43]

 


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