Turban & Nemstov Play Hebrew Melodies

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Joseph Achron (1886-1943) was born in Lodz and studied in Warsaw and Russia. A virtuoso violinist, he was a pupil of Leopold Auer, who also taught Heifetz and Elman, but he studied composition under Anatoly Liadov, and his music (or at least his later music) was respected by no less than Arnold Schoenberg. Before Achron came to compose "Jewish" works he wrote in a Slavic/European style, and Miriam Kramer and Simon Oliver's all-Achron CD for ASV focused on that aspect, although it included the Hebrew Melody and the Hebrew Lullaby. Solomon Rosovsky introduced Achron to the Society for Jewish Folk Music at a time before World War I when notions of a Jewish nation and Jewish nationalism were in the air. For a time Achron focused exclusively on "Jewish" music, and helped to form what Nemtsov's notes refer to as a New Jewish School. Robert Maxham reviewed an all-Achron CD by Hagai Shaham (20:6) that focuses on that repertoire, including the Suite from music for Stempenyu, a play taken from a novel by Sholom Aleichem about a klezmer violinist with a hypnotic and (to judge from the music, including a hair-raising sequence of left-hand pizzicatos) somewhat sinister power over women. Szigeti premiered this suite, one of the most interesting aspects of this recital.

The New Jewish School wrote everything from folk-song arrangements to original compositions that incorporated the harmonic and expressive features of folk song, Hasidic, and cantorial music. Some sought to preserve and illuminate the music; others were interested in a portrayal of the Jewish character or soul. As with any form of nationalist music, what makes it all recognizable is the use of a common vocabulary, which of necessity relies on elements of cliche. Bloch's Baal Shem has that element, as do the other works on this release. In spite of a certain basic sameness to many of the works here, there is also plenty of variety on this disc.

Alexander Weprik's (1899-1958) Suite from 1925 is an immediate ear-opener, for its three movements share the intensity, harshness, and dissonance of the Bartók Rhapsodies; this is a real discovery and potential addition to the repertoire. Also modernist in harmony but traditional in melody are the three works by Alexander Krejn (Kreyn, or Krein), fervid in their intense expression. Lazare Saminsky (1882-1959) utilized a far more conservative and traditional harmonic sense as an underpinning to more-or-less pure Hasidic melodies. The results are rich, totally accessible, beautiful, and somewhat cinematic. Joel Engel (1868-1927), the earliest composer here, also used Hasidic vocal melodies as a basis, but with a less embellished accompaniment that is starker in its purity.

Violin recitals of Jewish music are hardly a new concept; Mischa Elman recorded one years and years ago, and Aaron Rosand recorded a honey of CD for Audiophon (14:4). Klezmer bands have maybe brought mainstream listeners closer to the wild and uninhibited sources; the composers represented on this disc were obviously expecting performances keeping to concert norms of deportment, and I cannot deny that a certain sameness sets in before this disc has been fully heard. Also it must be admitted that Turban could have done much more to capture the expressive gestures taken from vocal technique. But for the chance to hear attractive short pieces for violin, for the invaluable exposure to Weprik's magnificent Suite, and for a reminder of just how effectively Achron wrote for his instrument, this release should attract many collectors. Nemtsov's notes themselves are quite valuable. The sound is close and on the dry side.

-- David K. Nelson, FANFARE [9/2001]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 93028

  • UPC: 040888302827

  • Label: SWR Classic

  • Composer: Alexander Krein, Alexander M. Veprik, Joel Engel, Joseph Achron, Lazare Saminsky

  • Performer: Ingolf Turban, Jascha Nemstov