Jewish Music of the Dance

Jewish Music of the Dance


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Jewish Music of the Dance

Naxos' Jewish Music of the Dance looks like a compilation, but it isn't; Introducing the World of American Jewish Music is the only compilation issued in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music series, and as the series is now past 40 discs, perhaps it's time for another one. The constant here is the orchestra used, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, with a different conductor for each of the four works presented on the theme of Jewish Music of the Dance, which is only very loosely adhered to. The real surprise is the work that comes first: "Three Hassidic Dances" by Chicago composer Leon Stein. Although written in the '40s for a rudimentary conducting class, these three orchestral dances are expertly and colorfully scored, full of lively spontaneity and indeed, danceable. Stein's little suite is a terrific discovery that would be a hit on any concert program -- it has some of same qualities that make Ippolitov-Ivanov's "Caucasian Sketches" so appealing, but it is even more immediate and charismatic. "Three Hassidic Dances" carries the listener along so naturally that one doesn't even think about what conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser is up to, which may well be the best compliment that one could pass his way in this context. The booklet for Jewish Music of the Dance has copious notes, and a lot of them are devoted to the third work on the program, the concert suite from Stefan Wolpe's "The Man from Midian." This is a premiere recording like the others; although the complete ballet has been recorded by the Group for Contemporary Music for Koch, it is scored for two pianos only. This is an orchestral suite prepared for a 1951 premiere by the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos, and it's truly great, totally awesome stuff. Partly scored in twelve-tone, Wolpe does what you wish Arnold Schoenberg would do; the music is rigorous and serious but has a sense of inevitability about it and is propelled by intense rhythms, even some drawn from boogie-woogie. The music slips in and out of conventionally tonal sections as well, and clearly Wolpe is utilizing his techniques in the service of dramatic requirements, not trying to work the other way around. Joseph Silverstein, best known as a violinist, conducts this music as though it is second nature to him, and "The Man from Midian" will make you lose your place in whatever you're doing -- it's that compelling. The remainder is less inspiring. The "Suite from the Ballet Moïse" by Darius Milhaud captures the composer in one of his "let's recycle" moods. While the oppressive idiom of the opening movement "Israelites suffering under slavery" exactly fits the subject matter, one wonders why Milhaud doesn't see fit to change the scenery in his music even as the ballet scenes begin to change. When changes do occur, anyone who is familiar with Milhaud's music in some depth will recognize these gestures as coming from places where Milhaud has been before. Conductor Gerard Schwarz works hard to put this music over, and certainly is a dedicated advocate of Milhaud, but here he just doesn't have very much to work with. The disc concludes, appropriately, with the music of Lazare Saminsky, a Russian-American who was a founding member of the St. Petersburg-based Jewish Folk Art Society. His opera-ballet "The Vision of Ariel" is a highly interesting work -- written in Tiflis in 1916, Saminsky touched it up a little just short of its premiere in 1954, and the touched up sections stick out like a sore thumb. Tenor Alberto Mizrahi does a splendid job singing this music, which seems rooted in the idiom of late Rimsky-Korsakov, but in this context it makes for an uncomfortable fit for the rest of the album. Although choreographic, "The Vision of Ariel" is basically a vocal work and one wonders what it is doing here. So while much of Jewish Music of the Dance may not make you feel like getting up and dancing, the best parts of it well make up for the weaker content therein. Another advantage of Jewish Music of the Dance is that the music and program are of such quality that Gentiles will find much that is thought provoking and fulfilling here, and as such this title is one that is easy to recommend as representative of the best elements of the Milken Archive series itself; sort of like a well-chosen compilation.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/26/2006
Label: Milken Archive
UPC: 0636943943922
catalogNumber: 8559439


  1. 3 Hassidic Dances, for orchestra
  2. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 1. Ouverture [Israelites suffering under slavery]
  3. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 2. Modéré [Moses' birth and discovery]
  4. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 3. Animé [Moses brought to court]
  5. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 4. Suple et Animé [Moses as pet of the court; poli
  6. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 8. Lent (excerpt) [Moses' descent from Mt. Sinai;
  7. Moïse, ballet symphonique for orchestra (Opus Americanum No. 2), Op. 219: 9. Modéré [Moses' anger and solitude]
  8. The Man from Midian, ballet suite for orchestra, C. 98
  9. The Vision of Ariel, opera: Scene 1 (excerpts)
  10. The Vision of Ariel, opera: Scene 3 (excerpts)

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