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James Manheim, October 2010

The “Yiddish Winterreise” concept of this album is a bit difficult to grasp. It’s not really modeled on Franz Schubert’s song cycle, except that in a general sense it is. The album includes one song from that cycle, Der Lindenbaum, in Yiddish translation, and the concert presentation of Yiddish song in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust was heavily influenced by German art song, Schubert in particular. What you hear on the album is a collection of Yiddish songs, some of them traditional and some with known text authors, but, as bass-baritone Mark Glanville points out, the histories of these pieces remain uncertain, and songs thought to be traditional have turned out to be of relatively recent vintage. They might be thought to represent “a Holocaust survivor’s inner journey,” as is stated, or perhaps his or her memories: some represent grief over the unthinkable violence that was the history of Jewish life in the last century, but some have Jewish liturgical or other religious significance, and a few are humorous. Taken as a cycle, then, they evoke—quite powerfully in the understated readings of Glanville and pianist Alexander Knapp—a sense of profound loss over something that has vanished, which turns out to be very close to Schubert after all. What makes this album appealing, if it is permitted to use the word in this context, is Glanville’s obvious determination to fuse the aspects of his background into a unique artistic whole. The booklet is short on explication of the music and the text authors, some of whom were major figures of Yiddish literature, but Glanville’s essay on how he came to record this music ought to be required reading for singers.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2010

An unusual disc title deserves explanation, though this disc’s somewhat clunky subtitle provides an answer of sorts. It is in essence ‘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 destroyed as he flees the Vilna ghetto. Minor-key or modal melodies may evoke a sense of sadness, yet a deep-hearted joy, even triumph, are often equally evident.’ [Naxos]

The arranger of many here, and excellent pianist, Alexander Knapp analyses the salient features of much of the music—its indebtedness to mid nineteenth century ‘German classical harmony’ and its frequent adoption of the minor key, straightforward form and rhythm and the use of improvisatory passages. He has not sought to improve the original melodic lines but has responded to them in a personal way, whilst respecting their essence.

What emerges therefore is a sequence of songs, the poets or writers of which range chronologically from Levi Yitzchok, who was born in 1740. Mordecai Gebirtig, Abraham Brudno and Moshe Nadir died between 1942 and 1944. Both Aklexander Olshanetsky and Janot S. Roskin however died in 1946.

The disc opens with the sonorous declamation of the traditional Khosn bazingns (Singing for the Bridegroom) and then leads on to the journey proper where the poet’s town is ablaze. Fear, anger, and injunctions to quench the flames are the mileposts of this song but the journey is not all pogrom and flight. The putative wanderer’s mental journey takes in landscape and rabbi, hearth and home, parents and children, Messiah and orphan, the chosen texts illuminate his mind’s imaginative conjunctions and consonances between settings, a kind of sub-conscious or indeed conscious internalised self-communing.

Therefore there are nostalgic-romantic settings, of which the reverie that is Vilna is the most prominent. The jaunty settings of What Will Happen When the Messiah Comes and The Rabbi has Bid Us be Happy attest to a double laced irony, the injunction to ‘be happy’ sounding too much like an emotional forced march. Moments of self-pity, melismatic vehemence and fiery declamation fuse in Raisins and Almonds. The tenth setting is a of Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum, an infusion that conjoins the German with the Yiddish in which language it is set. Further in the journey the impassioned and anguished peaks reached in Habeit mishomayim (Look Down from the Heavens) attest to the tormented weight pressing on the traveller though he soon relaxes to the cimbalon evocations of Der rebe Elimelekh (Rabbi Elimelech). These lead to a series of songs on childhood of which Kleyner yosem (Little Orphan) is very beautifully and simply done. In the context the twenty first setting, Un a yingele vet zey firn (And a Little Boy Will Lead Them) has some quite striking, indeed startling harmonies in the context of the journey. This questing harmonic writing, which becomes more and more incursive, leads toward the penultimate song, that urges one never to forget to say Kaddish. This in turn leads to the final setting, a spoken recitation of the Kaddish, which not only acts as a cyclical corollary of the opening recitation but which also functions as an act of praise and of deliverance. This is a story of survival after all.

Glanville is the singer who guides us through this internalised human landscape. He is the orator and inquisitor, the mediator and the innocent. His voice rises to pitches of crises of recall; sinks into gauze-gentle recollections of childhood. It is the voice of rebuke and regret, the voice that embraces but must stifle self-pity. It is the voice that goes on.

He and Alexander Knapp form a harmonious ensemble and have been finely recorded. There are full English texts.

Michael Mark
American Record Guide, May 2010

Many of the songs reflect the influences of classical composers from Mendelssohn to Schoenberg. Some have been arranged by Mr Knapp, who has a formidable scholarly background in Jewish music. These two British musicians have created a program with a variety of melody and emotion that avoids sameness. Even in these profound lamentations, Jews don’t completely lose hope. English texts only and a good essay plus bios. This being a Naxos release, the price is a modest one. Man’s evil and man’s goodness are depicted on these tracks, and the results are unsettling—in a positive way.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Charlie Bertsch
Zeek, February 2010

In the wake of the Holocaust, the German classical repertoire has created an obvious dilemma for Jewish musicians. To reject it altogether, as some have done, means professional marginalization. To embrace it the way so many assimilated Jews once did, however, can seem like a willful refusal to remember. All manner of compromises have taken shape in the territory between these two extremes, from those who prioritize the work of Jewish composers in the classical tradition, such as Mendelssohn and Schönberg, to those who painstakingly sort the good Germans from the bad, to those who blur the distinction between “high” and “low” culture as a way of recuperating Ashkenazi traditions. Regardless of the approach taken, there is no easy way out of this dilemma. But the remarkable Yiddish Winterreise shows how much melancholy beauty can be discovered during the search.

The product of an intriguing collaboration between Mark Glanville, who wrote the widely praised book The Goldberg Variations about his days as a teenage football hooligan in London, and Alexander Knapp, an expert on Jewish music, Yiddish Winterreise reminds us that the language of the shtetl is not that far removed from the language of the German countryside. In turning away from the rituals of the court in favor of more rustic inspiration, nineteenth-century German composers like Fran Schubert elevated the folk ballad to the same status as more sophisticated compositions. Indeed, the Lieder found in song cycles like his celebrated Winterreise make the distinction between simple and complex forms seem irrelevant.

So does Knapp and Glanville’s creation, though in a different emotional register. Although studded with moments that recall the dissonance of twentieth-century New Music, most of the songs derive their modernism from the wellspring of tradition. Knapp’s arrangements demonstrate that the “off” notes that Schönberg and his followers turned into a system derive, in part, from the minor-key wistfulness of Ashkenazi songs. In his supremely capable hands, even familiar Yiddish numbers acquire an avant-garde patina. The same goes for Schubert’s own “Der Lindenbaum” from Der Winterreise, repurposed here as “Di Lipe.” There is Romanticism here, to be sure, but the sort that emerges, psychologically battered, from the ruins of secularism’s future.

In the original Winterreise, the conceit is that the songs trace the emotional undoing of a man who has lost his lover. Yiddish Winterreise turns that tale of amour inside out, reimagining it as the grief of a father who has watched his child perish. But because Knapp and Glanville periodically make room in the darkness for the light of youthful laughter, the work as a whole feels strangely hopeful. In a sense, their song cycle performs the work of mourning rather than merely pointing to the need for it. Against this backdrop, the a cappella “Kaddish” that closes the record results in a deep sense of peace. This is profoundly beautiful music, worthy of the high accolades that are starting to stream in. You owe it to both yourself and your heritage to hear it.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2010

The constant need to remind us of the Holocaust is necessary, for it brings with it the hope that we will become more aware of ethnic and religious cleansing that is still taking place. A Yiddish Winterreise, is part of that message, and takes its idea from the sadness and despair of Schubert’s song cycle, Winterreise. It centres on a world that had just seen the formation of the Vilna ghetto and the aftermath, words from that time and from Jewish history intermingled in work that is arranged for piano and voice by Alexander Knapp. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on Jewish music and in using moods that range from dances to lieder he has brought about a score of broad and popular appeal. Each of the twenty-three ‘songs’ are quite short but build a work of almost eighty minutes. I guess that it means most to those of the Jewish religion, and it is obvious from the performance just how much it means to Mark Glanville. He is a singer I have much admired over the years as an operatic bass-baritone who is well-known on the UK stage. His parentage is of German origin who left their homeland at the onset of Jewish persecution, though his relations were not so fortunate. Knapp’s playing is nicely balanced and the engineers are working in the excellent acoustics of England’s famous Potton Hall.

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