Di Goldene Keyt / Mir zaynen do tsu zingen (We're here to sing)
Di Goldene Keyt
Mir zaynen do tsu zingen
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Here is an album to satisfy two needs. Good albums of Yiddish folks songs are rare. And Yiddish choral music previously non-existent. Better than that, this chorus is directed by Zalmen Mlotek, who seems to appear whenever interesting Yiddish music is heard.
In reviewing this album I need to note that I don't know Yiddish folk music well, and I know choral music not at all. Still, the sound of dozens of voices swelling harmoniously in song is glorious. This album does not disappoint. Opening with the title song, "Mir zaynen do tzu zingen," by composer-in-residence Mark Zuckerman, the album includes a generous sprinkling of familiar songs. Some, such as "Der Yid der shmid," relatively new to my ears, and yet exciting with its chorus of "eins zwei drei eins zwei drei", apparently about a singing blacksmith. (Somehow, with so much excitement, I expected the subject to be more earth-shattering.)
One aspect of the recording that I find curious is the lack of solos. I do not know if this is part of the tradition whence this album derives (via Workmen's Circle? via those big Soviet choruses? The workers singing en masse?). It certainly does not affect the pleasure of the combined voices. (Except, well, to be honest, I may have as many recordings of "Dona Dona" as I need in this life. This is a small quibble.)
Of special note is the oratorio, "Fun viglid biz ziglid" (from lullaby to victory hymn). With newly translated English narration by Zuckerman and Mlotek, this is the story of Yiddish life in this century, from village life and children playing, through the Holocaust and the triumph of voices that are not stilled. Survivors carry on. I was somewhat blown away, in listening to the "Children's song" to realize that an early Israeli ensemble, "HaTarnegolim" (The Roosters) had recorded a similar children's melody--language changed to Hebrew and the locale changed to local "sh'khunot" of the fifties. It had not occurred to me that it had Eastern European roots, nor did I expect to hear them again in this oratorio.
Despite the pleasure of discovering this piece, and its excellent production, the narration is somewhat heavy. This is a real "triumph of the people in the old country" piece, and in that sense, it feels as dated. In part, that may be because the narration ends with the end of the war, and so much has happened, and especially so much has changed with regard to Yiddish in our culture, since. Although Jewish continuity appears to be in no doubt (if its coming forms are still evolving), the culture, as remembered here is gone and did not triumph. By pegging this album to the time defined by Rauch and Younin's oratorio, with its strong ties to fifty years ago, the album also dates itself.
If there is a problem here, that's where it lies: how does one perform Yiddish in a context that moves beyond nostalgia? And if Yiddish cannot be moved from nostalgia, does it have a future? What happens when there are no longer parents and grandparents (other the ultra-orthodox cultists who would not listen to such secular sounds, regardless) who remember being in a culture where Yiddish was the first language? That may not be a question that can be answered until (and presumably unless) Yiddish culture revives sufficiently to once again be a language of the future. In the meantime, this is a wonderful collection of new and familiar songs, well worth hearing and one that will bring much pleasure on its own terms.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 11/23/97
Personnel this recording:
Zalmen Mlotek: musical director
Mark Zuckerman: composer in residence
Sopranos:Lesli Cutler, Helene Gasner, Miriam Goldberg, Sara Ruderman, Nancy Samotin, Robin Sneider*, Judith Steinhardt, Gail Watson
Altos: Bonnie Dietrich, Cheryl Gross, Gladys Gruenwald, Lisa Ann Kirsch**, Susan Romanalis*, Debra Rothman, Abby Simon tenors:: David Bernstein, Abe Gershowitz, Bill Gross*, Nachum Lerner, Stuart Malkin, Jonathan Rose, Leibel Rozner
Basses: Peter Allen, Abba Borowitch*, Dan Rous, Mark Zuckerman
* section leader
** production stage manager
Mir zaynen do tsu zingen--We're here to sing (Mark Zuckerman) 2:02
Dremlen feygl--Drowsing Birds (Leah Rudnick/Leyb Yampolski, arr. Zalmen Mlotek) 2:56
Mayn rue-platz--My resting place (Morris Rosenfeld, arr. M. Zuckerman) 3:40
Dona, dona (Aaron Zeitlin/Shalom Secunda, arr. M. Zuckerman) 3:26
Di zun vet aruntergeyn--The sun will set (Aaron Zeitlin/Sholom Secunda, arr. M. Zuckerman) 2:59
Gebet--Prayer (Avrom Reisen/Mark Zuckerman) 3:35
Unter dayne vayse shtern--Under your white heavens (Avrom Sutzkever/Avrom Brudno, arr. M. Zuckerman) 3:42
Der Yid der shmid--The Jewish blacksmith (Wolf Younin/Vladimir Heifetz) 3:42
Fun viglid biz ziglid--From Lullaby to Victory Hymn (Wolf Younin/Maurice Rauch, with Eng. nar. by M. Zuckerman and Z. Mlotek) 42:00