To date, 30 recordings are out, and over 20 more are still to come, in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Musics unprecedented multi-year project of research and recording. All are on the respected Naxos labels American Classics series.
Also, a nationally syndicated Milken Archive radio series, with Seattles 98.1 KING-FM listed among its outlets, will begin airing selected pieces from the Milken Archive starting in January.
Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Music Director, is an advisor to this project, and a frequent performer in it. Hes the conductor on one of this seasons more unusual finds: the multi-composer Genesis Suite from 1945.
A Hanukka Celebration: Traditional Songs and Original Settings
by Samuel Adler and others
Stoke the fireplace, warm the cider, don the snowflake sweaters, and enjoy trumpety orchestral suites, angelic choirs, and the occasional smooth cantorial voice. As an accompaniment to the season, its a clever Jewish alternative. Discover what Jews in 18th-century Venice considered the traditional tune for Maoz Tzur in Samuel Adlers engaging Hanukkah cantata,The Flames of Freedom, winningly sung by the New London Childrens Choir. Released last year but sure to be a perennial.
Genesis Suite (1945)
Gerard Schwarz conducts the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Ernst Senff Choir in this patchwork quilt of seven Bible stories set by seven different composers. Their names Schoenberg, Shilkret, Tansman, Milhaud, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Toch, and Stravinsky tell you that this piece was a creation of that talent-filled Los Angeles to which émigré talents flocked when the outside world went mad.
Narration stitches together these widely divergent styles. Oddly, for all the detailed notes about the recovery of this work (a most Hollywoodish commission, according to a Stravinsky biographer), the Archive folks neglected to specify which of the five accomplished narrators speaks in which movement.
Frederick Jacobi (1891-1952):
Cello Concerto; Sabbath Evening Service (excerpts); more.
The baroque concerto grosso form that inspired Ernest Bloch lurks in the background of Jacobis muscular Hagiographa, a quintet for piano and strings in three movements (Job, Ruth, Joshua). A respected teacher as well as composer, the San Francisco-born Jacobi wrote these liturgical selections for New Yorks Temple Emanu El. The accompanying historical notes hallmarks of the Milken Archive include an extensive essay about the Temples innovative mid-20th century music program, focusing on the contribution of Lazare Saminsky, an alumnus of the St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music, who became its music director in 1924.
Vienna Choir Boys:
A Jewish Celebration in Song
Two very different tenors join the worlds most-recorded, and possibly oldest (founded 1498) boys choir, with their alumni, the men of the Chorus Viennensis, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gerald Wirth. The classically dark voice of Cantor Naftali Herstik, anchor of Jerusalems Great Synagogue, matches Sholom Kalibs decidedly old-world suite, The Day of Rest (in Hebrew, based on siddur texts).
The bright, tender voice of the 26-year-old Cantor Shimon Craimer shines in Abraham Kaplans Hebrew-language Psalms of Abraham. Associated during recent years with both the UW School of Music and the Seattle Symphony Chorale, Kaplan, Israeli by birth, collaborated as chorus master for years with Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic.
Symphony No. 5 We are the Echoes; Nuptial Scene; The Binding (excerpts); Five Sephardic Choruses; Selected Liturgical Works.
The Mannheim-born son of a cantor, Adler has made a significant mark on American liberal synagogue music. Here he conducts the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson in a symphony incorporating five very different texts that wrestle with belief and tradition. Some pretty angular vocal lines traverse the Nuptial Scene, which we are told is based on a 15th century Catalan-Hebrew wedding text. Abrahams and Isaacs tortured climb up a mountain of sacrifice is matched by the music.
Love Songs for Sabbath; Three Candle Blessings; Love Songs for Sabbath; others
The acclaimed Broadway performer Tovah Feldshuh murmurs close to the mike in the Blessings, and in the Songs, where organ, chorus and cantor illustrate texts ranging from Yehuda HaLevi to Hannah Senesh to, of course, the Song of Songs. Program notes are by the composer, a respected authority on, among other musical matters, Leonard Bernstein; he served as Bernsteins assistant and editor for years. A decidedly Bernsteinian urbanity informs this music, too.
SymphonySongs of the Soul; Shir Lerev Shabbat; The Final Ingredient (excerpts)
Amram scored the classic films Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. As a well-known jazz and theatre composer, fellow traveler to Beat Generation writers, and Leonard Bernsteins first composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, Amrams Shabbat pieces for organ, cantor and choir seem surprisingly staid. But his Symphony (written 20 years later) comes closer to his earthy ethnicity: the first movements inspiration is a traditional Passover chant from Ethiopian Jewish tradition. The excerpts from Ingredient, composed for a 1965 TV drama about Passover in a concentration camp, suggest that the whole work is worth hearing.
Marvin David Levy: Masada; Canto de los Marranos; Shir Shel Moshe
Our Sephardic-tinged town will want to know about this canto, which Levy is said to have rewritten for this recording; the Reform movement commissioned it in 1977. The Cuban-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez declaims and sings, with the Barcelona Symphony/National Orchestra of Catalonia conducted by Jorge Mester, in this multilingual (Latin, Hebrew, Ladino) expression of irony, terror and sorrow; the music begins, as indeed the history really did, with a reading of the infamous 1492 expulsion decree. Could be a powerful companion to your visit to Seattle Art Museums Spain in the Age of Exploration.
Jewish Operas, Vol. 1. Excerpts from The Golem by Abraham Ellstein; Chelm by Robert Strassburg; The Dybbuk by David Tamkin
The composers lives spanned the 20th century, from its first decade into its last; the stories are the best-known folk legends of Eastern Europe. Ellstein, composer of hit shows for the Second Avenue Yiddish Theatre, actually studied at Juillard under Jacobi. His finale to the golem story includes a fainting soprano and some intense moments between the creature and the rabbi who must deconstruct him. The California-based Strassburg set the Chelm silliness to surprisingly tender music. Tamkins Hollywood roots are showing in these excerpts from one of many settings of the Dybbuk story. Committed and commendable performances.