- Violin Sonata No. 3 'Nigunim'
Many if not most performers of Jewish background have recorded albums of material referring to Jewish musical traditions. Violinist Gil Shaham and his pianist sister Orli Shaham deserve credit here for bending the formula in some original ways. There are a few of the general hits that show up in programs of this kind: violin-and-piano arrangements of Ernest Bloch's "Baal Shem," which displays Gil Shaham's characteristic burnished tone at its best, and of three items from the score to Schindler's List by John Williams. Williams was not Jewish, and these chamber readings offer a somehow fascinating window on exactly how he manipulated the features of Jewish music to suggest the themes involved. The rest of the pieces are much less common, and it is here that the real interest lies. The highlight is a work by contemporary Israeli composer Avner Dorman, which draws on Jewish traditions from a wide swath of the globe, including religious cantillation; the work's title, and that of the album, means melodic improvisation, and the composition suggests this in multiple ways. "Nigunim" was composed for the two performers. The works by Joseph Achron are folkloristic in nature, while the "Danse hebraïque" by Josef Bonime, born in Lithuania and later a Hollywood-based player and accompanist to Mischa Elman, is a fine short essay in the Bloch vein. The Shahams here have not only paid tribute to their origins but also explored worthwhile and underexposed music.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Back in the 1960s, Micha Elman made a best selling recording for Vanguard consisting of popular Hebrew melodies. Flash forward to the present with Gil Shaham accompanied by his sister, Orli exploring a similar concept. However, the Shahams up the ante with the inclusion of two substantial works by Dorman and Williams both deserving of special attention. Throughout the entire program, the impeccable musicianship and elan of brother and sister make this an enticing acquisition. The sound pickup is natural. The liner notes are informative.
Oh yeah!!! The Shaham’s are in the house!!!!! Okay – I have to admit it – I’d walk a mile in the snow to hear Gil Shaham play violin. Here we have 10 works of Jewish music, played by Mr. Shaham (violin) and his sister Orli (piano). There is a tradition of music in the Jewish culture, and it is rich and warm and sad and so very, very human. And when performed by musicians of this caliber, it is difficult to listen to without focusing on it. Binime’s “Danse Hebraique” is full of energy and vigor, and Achron’s “Hebrew Melody, Op. 33” is filled with virtuosic elements that this pair gives us seemingly effortlessly. This is a truly great piece of music. Dorman’s four movement “Nigunim” is a very difficult to play but very soulful work (although the 2nd movement certainly has “teaching” elements – if you’re a virtuoso!), filled with determination and pathos, pride, and a sense of both unease and resolve. “2 Hebrew Pieces, Op. 35” from Achron are evocative (No. 2, “Lullaby”) and patiently energetic and driven (No. 1, “Dance”, which contains quite a virtuoso passage up and down the violin about mid-way through the piece). What follows are three works by John Williams from the score to “Schindler’s List”, and these are precisely and wonderfully played. Next is Leo Zeitlin’s “Eli Zion”, a very powerful and expressive work originally written for cello and piano, but transcribed for violin and piano by Achron. I had never heard this transcription before, and it is marvelous! Closing the CD is Ernest Bloch’s “Baal Shem” (subtitled “Three Pieces for Chassidic Life”), the first movement aptly titled “Contrition” is stoic and contrite, the second movement (“Nigun”, meaning melody) is strong and powerful, with the last movement (“Simchas Torah”) filled with joyful and personal feeling celebratory music. The recording quality is excellent, and this recording will be spending a lot of time in my CD player. Both of the Shaham siblings do a fantastic job, the result being a recording to be enjoyed again and again. Highly recommended.