Yiddish Winterreise: a Holocau
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A Yiddish Winterreise is 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
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Why the Schubert connection? You'll even find one of Schubert's most memorable songs from Winterreise - Der Lindenbaum - sung in Yiddish translation on this CD. Listening to the 23 songs and their piano accompaniment, you'll certainly hear one explanation; nearly all of the dozen or so composers were obviously influenced by Schubert. But then, virtually every composer of 'Lieder' with piano accompaniment has been influenced by Schubert, who all but invented the genre. Let's be honest: none of these songs match the standard set by Schubert, but some of them are exquisite pieces in their own right.
Bass-baritone Mark Glanville explains the connection on his terms in the CD notes. He tells of being inspired, as a child, by hearing the Schubert Lieder sung by the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, which inspired him to pursue a career in music. In fact, he sang Die Winterreise in recitals as a student at Oxford. Since those days, he continues, he has found a love of the Yiddish language and its poetry, and discovered that when he includes such Yiddish songs in his concerts, audiences respond to him singing more emotively. Glanville is an articulate writer as well as a singer. He is not another Fischer-Dieskau vocally -- I don't think he would claim to be -- but he has solid vocal technique and a profound sense of the vocal traditions of Jewish life.
I grabbed this CD on the recommendation of the previous reviewer, Robin Friedman, to whom I am grateful.
The tribute to Schubert's incomparable music is apt because it was a deeply sad emotional experience to hear this "Yiddish Winterreise". The theme of this cycle is not romantic rejection. Rather, the music and poems reflect upon the destruction of European Yiddish culture following upon the Holocaust. The narrator is a singer at Jewish weddings who has escaped the doom intended for him. He opens the cycle with a traditional song, unaccompanied, "Singing for the bridegroom" (no. 1) which says:
"A bridegroom is king on his
so say our sages.
A groom is like a czar
on his wedding day."
The cycle concludes (no. 23) with the Jewish prayer of sanctification for the dead: the Kaddish. This is a fitting reflection on the lost culture commemorated in the music. The remaining songs of joy, humor, and sorrow capture a great deal of traditional European Jewish life. Some of these songs, such as "bom, bom, bom, biribirri bom" (no. 3) which is a prayer to God to "remove your anger from us" and "Tumbalalyke" -- play balalika (no. 11) were familiar but most were new to me. At the near mid-point of the cycle, (no 10) there is an express reference to Schubert's "Winterreise" with a Yiddish rendition of its most famous individual song, "Der Lindenbaum". Muller's poem concludes:
"Now I am in a foreign land
Very far from that place,
But still hear the lime tree murmur:
'You would have found rest here!'"
Some of the other songs include "Vilne" (no. 4) to a text by A.L. Wolfson which takes a nostalgic look at a pre-Holocaust center of Jewish life and learning. There are five poignant songs setting texts by one Mordechi Gebirtig (1877-1942). His poem "Moyshele my friend" (no. 12) tells of two old friends who meet by chance after many years, with one man plying the other with questions about their childhood days. His poem "Childhood Years" (no 19) likewise takes a sentimental look at youth and innocence: "Childhood years, sweet flowers/You will never come back/To me/Cold, sad/Old gloomy, melancholy years/Have usurped your place". Gebirtig's poem "It's burning" (no. 2) describes the destruction of a village in a Pogrom or, perhaps, in the early stages of the Holocaust. The other two settings of this poet are "Little Orphan" (no. 20) and "An angel is born" (no. 22)
Other songs, such as "Under your white stars" (no. 14) express traditional piety while still other such as "Rabbi Elimelekh" (no 17) celebrates a Hasidic rabbi who is not afraid to dance and rejoice. Together with songs such as "Look down from the heavens" (no.16) and "raisins and almonds" (no. 8) which commemorate the destruction wrought upon Jewish communities, there are humorous songs such as "If a Jew has a Wife" (no. 13) and "Khatskele" (no 15) which sing of the vicissitudes of married life.
Glanville and Knapp perform with passion. Much of the music is in the minor key while several songs use the Jewish modalities of the synagogue service. The accompaning booklet includes English texts of all the poems. As with the great music for which it was named, it was a wrenching but uplifting experience on a bleak wintry weekend to hear this Yiddish song cycle.