The Arty Semite

Classical Rediscoveries for the New Year

By Benjamin Ivry

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World War II delayed the just appreciation of many wonderful Jewish composers, such as Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Russian composer who died in 1996. Trio Voce, a gifted piano trio, has nimbly recorded Weinberg’s multifaceted Trio, Op. 24 on Con Brio Recordings, bringing out the composer’s attachment to the works of J. S. Bach.

Viktor Ullmann, a Silesia-born composer of Jewish origin, was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, and is now sufficiently recorded that listeners — as with increasing numbers of excellent composers whose lives and music were blotted out by the Holocaust — may admire him for his talent, not merely out of dutiful sympathy. A 1997 performance, newly released on CD from Hänssler Classic, of Ullmann’s work for narrator and piano, “The Lay of the Love and Death of the Flagbearer Christoph Rilke” teams the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau — a mighty actor as well as singer — with the spiky, uncompromising pianism of Hartmut Höll. Ullmann’s work sets a text by Rainer Maria Rilke about his 17th century ancestor who died in battle, thereby expressing the dangers of war as an oft-fatal initiation rite, as indeed it turned out to be for Ullmann.

Even more recent Jewish composers are being rediscovered by talented young musicians. These include Israeli composer Jacob Gilboa (born Erwin Goldberg in Slovakia), whose angular, passionate 1979 “Reflections on Three Chords of Alban Berg” has just received its first-ever recording on Labor Records played with fiery conviction by the gifted Lithuanian-American pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute.

A Canadian Jewish composer, Srul Irving Glick wrote a mellifluous song cycle “South of North – Images of Canada,” expressing ardent love for nature, newly recorded by baritone Joshua Hopkins for Atma Classique.

For those who prefer old favorites, Mendelssohn’s much-beloved String Quartet in A minor acquires new impact when performed by the subtly balanced Old City String Quartet on a CD from Unipheye Music. Similarly, an ArkivCD reprint, “Bravura,” of works by Fritz Kreisler is played by violinist Cho-Liang Lin, whose grasp of Yiddishkeit is so complete that it earned Lin a place among the young musicians surrounding Isaac Stern, a musical gang nicknamed The Kosher Nostra. A genuine icon, Kreisler was honored last year with an EMI 10-CD set of Kreisler’s own tenderly emotional recordings.

More Kreisleriana may be sampled on a CD from Crystal Records of the Israeli-born violist Yizhak Schotten performing transcriptions for viola of Kreisler works, originally fashioned by Lionel Tertis, a majestic British violist of Polish Jewish origin. Tertis’s own richly human playing can be experienced on still-available CD reissues from Biddulph Records.

Watch pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute with her Trio Cavatina play a portion of American Jewish composer Leon Kirchner’s Second Piano Trio.


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