The Yiddish Cabaret (Harmonia Mundi)

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Journalists sometimes write reckless headlines, knowing they will be fish-food in a couple of days. Artists cannot afford that luxury with album titles.

The cover here does not reflect the contents, and I’m telling you this so you don’t pester some poor record shop demanding your money back. 

The second string quartet by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the 5 Quartet Pieces of Erwin Schulhoff are about as Yiddish as a bacon croissant. Korngold’s primary influences were Strauss and Puccini, Schulholff was a Dvorak protégé who wrote musical manifestos for the Communist Party. Both were born into Jewish families but neither of these works exudes a scintilla of Yiddishness, or Yiddishkeit in the vernacular. I suspect both composers would have been horrified to be stamped with that label.

Korngold’s second quartet, written in 1933, was premiered by the Rosé Quartet a few days before the composer sailed off to his second life in Hollywood. It is so light that you might mistake it for salon music for classipops. Schulhoff, by contrast, is serious to the point you can almost hear him frowning as he composes. He likes waltz rhythms, though, and the Jerusalem Quartet spin them off with gusto. Morbid to a fault, it’s like Ravel’s La valse without the laughs.

The Yiddish kicks in with the final work – 6 lieder for soprano and string quartet commissioned from Leonid Desyatnikov and sung with barely contained enthusiasm by the Israel opera soprano Hila Baggio – I mean, how often do you get asked to sing in Yiddish? The songs are taken from the cabarets of Warsaw and Lodz between the two wars and speak of poverty, prostitution and professional thievery, cheerful stuff. I could do with more of this, if the lustrous Baggio is up for another set.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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