SPIRO, Simon: Traditional Cantorial and Concert Favorites (Amy Goldstein/ Coro Hebraeico/ Ne'imah Singers/ Neil Levin/ New York Cantorial Choir/ Schola Hebraeica/ Simon Spiro) (Naxos Milken Archives: 8.559460)
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CANTORIAL and CONCERT FAVORITES
CANTOR SIMON SPIRO SINGS
TRADITIONAL CANTORIAL and CONCERT FAVORITES:
MUSIC for the SABBATH, HIGH HOLY DAYS,
WEDDINGS and other HOLIDAYS
Therelease of this recording of cantorial classics for both the synagogue and theconcert stage is an example of the Milken Archive's mission to preserve andbring to new and broader audiences important aspects of the rich musicalheritage of Jewish life in America.?á The selections heard here embodyinterpretations and extensions of the eastern European Ashkenazi cantorialtradition that developed in Czarist and Hapsburg Europe from the late 19th
century until World War I.?á This cultivated tradition, known as hazzanut,involves highly developed, intricate and often florid vocal idioms based partlyon Hebrew prayer modes, biblical cantillation motifs, and traditional tunes,with additional influences derived from eastern European folk music.?á Severalof the works on this CD were written by prominent, emigre cantor-composers andcantorial choir directors who came to this country from Europe during theinter-war years, often attaining celebrity status; they include Moishe Oysher,Samuel Malavsky, Joshua Lind and Zavel Zilberts.?á Cantor Spiro has arrangedmany of these compositions, overlaying contemporary musical sonorities andsensibilities on a traditional foundation.
Theopening selection on this new CD, Ba'avur David, is a liturgicalpiece intended for that portion of the service on Sabbaths, Festivals, or HighHoly Days when the Torah scrolls are returned to the arc following the biblicalreadings.?á One of the most familiar of the virtuoso cantorial \warhorses," thiswork represents a kind of composite pastiche not infrequently found in theliturgical repertoire: much of the piece is based on various motifs that weregradually embellished and extended by different cantors over time.?á The lastsection, however, beginning with the word "hashivenu," is theacknowledged work of two composers: Joseph Rumshinsky, who wrote the melody,and the celebrated cantor, David Roitman, who adapted and popularized thepiece.?á Rumshinsky, one of the best-known composers of the popular AmericanYiddish theater and a powerful force on the Second Avenue scene, nonethelessmaintained a connection to synagogue music.?á As Milken Archive ArtisticDirector Neil Levin points out, "Most early choral arrangements of ba'avurdavid have leaned toward pedestrian harmonization, deferring to cantorialinterpolations and improvisations to build musical interest.?á This new arrangementby Simon Spiro, commissioned expressly for the Milken Archive, combines avariety of English, American, and eastern European choral timbres and idiomswith a fresh harmonic approach and extended chord structures."?á At the sametime, it offers opportunities for expressive improvisation in the greatcantorial tradition.
Thebeloved Shalom aleikhem, one of two Sabbath z'mirot or"table-songs" heard on this disc, is customarily sung at home before the prayerover the wine at the start of the Friday evening meal, to usher in the Sabbathpeace.?á The tune heard here, by Rabbi Israel Goldfarb, who was also a cantorand an influential figure in American Jewish music for half a century, isubiquitous among American Jews, and has acquired the status of a folk tune.?á
Thesetting of Haven Yakkir Li Efra'im by Samuel Malavsky is anexample of a liturgical piece that has been transformed into a concert work.?áDuring the "Golden Age" of cantor-composers in the United States (the 1930s,'40s and '50s), it was not uncommon for religious texts with inherentemotional, even theatrical qualities to receive musical treatment designed toappeal to a broad audience for performance on the concert stage.?á The text of HavenYakkir Li, taken from the Book of Jeremiah, comes from the Rosh Hashana(New Year) liturgy, and refers to God's remembrance of the Jewish people andHis unswerving assurance of compassion.?á The poetry alludes to a relationshipin which a beloved child, though he has provoked justifiable parental anger, isnonetheless remembered tenderly by the parent and loved just the same.?á In theliturgy, this promise extends to the entire Jewish people.?á Samuel Malavskywrote this work in a theatrical vein expressly for the Malavsky Family Choir,in which he was joined by his six children; the Simon Spiro version heard onthis CD, while deeply expressive, reveals a more restrained approach.
Theseven wedding benedictions or sheva b'rakhot constitute the finalpart of a Jewish marriage ceremony following the groom's formal avowal of themarriage, the placing of the ring, and the reading of the marriage contract.?áIntoned either by the wedding officiant or by several individuals, therecitation of the sheva b'rakhot has been interpreted as a means ofrelating the establishment of a new Jewish home to the Creation and to Israel's history.?á The first benediction is recited over wine, as a symbol of joy, and thefinal one blends the personal and the communal, linking the rejoicing of thecouple with the collective joy of Israel.?á In traditional wedding ceremonies,these prayers often provided a vehicle for extended cantorial and choralexpression.?á The elaborate cantorial-choral setting of the sheva b'rakhot
by Simon Spiro heard on this Milken Archive CD is based on a combination of twoearlier compositions by Sholom Kalib and Meyer Machtenberg.?á In his newarrangement, Cantor Spiro has gone far beyond the original versions of bothsources, adding inventive chord structures and progressions and incorporatingother traditional cantorial passages, as well as new material.
EasternEuropean Yiddish folklore is the source for the final work on this recording, StrangeHappenings: The Holy Day Calamities of Avremele Melamed.?á Recountingexamples of his comical misfortunes while feigning commiseration, the songpokes fun at Avremele, a hapless village Jewish schoolteacher, religiousinstructor and born "loser."?á His luck seems always to be against him at holyday times: forbidden grains appear in his matza dumplings on Passover, hearrives too late at the synagogue on Rosh Hashana to hear the shofar, hisrooster dies before he can perform an atonement ritual before Yom Kippur.?á Oneof a number of settings about this hapless bumbler, the dramatic concertarrangement heard here, with its virtuoso solo cantorial element, is by MauriceGoldman (d. 1984), a prolific composer of both Hebrew liturgical andYiddish choral music
Born in London, Cantor Simon Spiro drew upon his family heritage of Hassidic andYiddish cultures and its earlier cantorial tradition in finding his calling.?á Aleading interpreter of the cantorial art renowned for his virtuoso abilities,his varied repertoire ranges from classical renditions of traditional European hazzanut
to popular Yiddish song, and from contemporary Jewish musical styles to popularentertainment.?á Cantor Spiro's first pulpit was at the famous orthodox St. John's Wood Synagogue, then the seat of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, and hehas subsequently held positions at major synagogues in Canada and the United States.?á His concert tours have taken him to Australia, South America, Israel, South Africa, and the Far East--performing both cantorial and more popular music andappearing with well-known stage personalities.?á In addition, h