The Arty Semite

Warm Sounds of Summer CD Roundup

By Benjamin Ivry

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Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia

As summer approaches with its memories of squalling kiddie camp performances, a dollop of sung sarcasm may seem timely. Fortunately, “The Tom Lehrer Collection” CD/DVD set now appears from Shout! Factory, featuring the veteran mathematician and song satirist in compositions like “I’m spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica.”

For more serious listening, Hänssler Classic has just released a historical recording of the 1951 Piano Sonata, a work of solid integrity by the underrated Swiss Jewish composer Rolf Liebermann. In addition, the valiant CD reprint website Arkivmusic.com offers a collection of historic performances by noted pianist Leon Fleisher and the splendid West Coast violinist Eudice Shapiro, playing works by the romantic American modernist Leon Kirchner.

The latter CD, originally released by Bridge Records, joins a brand new Bridge CD of exquisite performances by the mighty Jewish American pianist Peter Serkin, son of the equally admirable Rudolf Serkin, in the seductive “Bagatelles” and “Piano Quintet” by Jonathan Lieberson, son of the late UK-born Jewish recording executive, Goddard Lieberson.

Jazz lovers will delight this summer in the new CD from EMI by the Kibbutz Cabri-born bassist and singer Avishai Cohen, not to be confused with Israeli jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen. Peaceful coexistence between two jazzmen named Avishai Cohen suggests a model of estival cooperation from which we all can learn.

Another collaborative ideal occurs when classical superstars rejoice unpretentiously in playing music like Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios No. 1 and 2 from Sony Classical, as do Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman. If your summer lacks grandiose vigor, Mahler’s 8th Symphony from the Canadian CD reissue company Immortal Performances is passionately led by Dimitri Mitropoulos without the overstatement of the more flamboyant, albeit wildly popular, versions by Leonard Bernstein. Maestro Bernstein also leads a schmaltzy version of Ernest Bloch’s “Schlemo-Hebrew Rhapsody” on a new reissue from EMI Classics, but the same set contains more unvarnished verity in Bloch’s 1933 “Sacred Service (Avodath Hakodesh),” led by the gifted Greek-born Jewish conductor Maurice Abravanel.

Wonderful interpreters can appropriate for their own use even the most unlikely works, and the outstanding Israeli-born pianist Saar Ahuvia’s brilliant duo with Stephanie Ho adds convincingly spiritual Yiddishkeit to even the arch-Catholic music by reactionary Frenchman Olivier Messiaen on a new CD, “Visions,” a must-hear for all piano fans.

Listen to Saar Ahuvia and Stephanie Ho perform the jaunty “Toccatina” by Jay Anthony Gach, whose Jewish-inspired works include “Eli, Eli,” a tribute to Hannah Szenes:


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