Lebrecht Weekly – Surviving: Jewish Women


Four releases, arriving in timely fashion for the upcoming New Year, explore the shushed-up sounds of creative Jewish femininity. The San Francisco composer David Garner has set four female Jewish poets, of whom the most gripping is the exotic Berliner Elsa Lasker-Schüler, represented here by her Blue Piano cycle. The poet’s voice is unbridled and inimitable, Garner’s is more conventional; the singer is Nanette McGuinness. This is one of those recitals that, good on paper, never quite gets lift-off (Centaur **).

A full album of 26 Lasker-Schüler poems, dating from the mid-1920s, was set to music in the 1960s by the former Hitler exile Wilhelm Rettich. It is evocative, subdued, tender and half-crazed, just like the reckless Lasker-Schüler who would sleep beneath Berlin café tables and died a pauper in Jerusalem. Rettich spent years in exile. The Israeli soprano Michal Shamir empathising with Elsa, sings with an admirable economy of vibrato. Vag Papian is the pianist. It’s a Deutschlandfunk/Gideon Boss production, well worth seeking out (****).

I fell in love with Rachel Talitman’s playing of Berthold Goldschmidt’s late Fantasy for Oboe, Cello and Harp, a work that dates from the exiled composer’s 1980s rediscovery after decades of being ignored. The composer’s mature voice is confidence incarnate and the harp is given a voice to match the two other instruments. Talitman pairs this exquisite work with a sonata by the Dutch-Jewish composer Samuel Dresden, new to me, and several works by the Munich exile Paul Ben Haim, who found refuge in Palestine. His Largamente for harp solo is a fusion of European and near-Eastern sound, written to great effect for the most reticent of instruments. Must be heard (Harp & Co ****).

The Russian composer Joel Engel, a folksong collector, migrated to Palestine in 1924 and died there three years later, aged 59. He wrote music for the Habimah theatre’s epic setting of the Dybbuk and produced numerous arrangement of Yiddish and Hebrew songs, mostly for women’s voices. Toccata’s pioneering album of Engel’s work from the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival is well worth exploring (Toccata ***).

  • Centaur
  • Deutschlandfunk/Gideon Boss
  • Harp & Co
  • Toccata
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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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