Elman Plays Hebrew Melodies – Mischa Elman, violin/ Joseph Seiger, piano – Vanguard

by | Oct 13, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Elman Plays Hebrew Melodies = BONIME: Danse Hebraique; BLOCH: Nigun; PERLMAN: Dance of the Rabbitzen; CHAJES: The Chassid; GOLDFADEN: Raisins and Almonds; ACHRON: Hebrew Melody; LAVRY: Yemenite Wedding; BRUCH: Kol Nidre; Eili, Eili (arr. Elman) – Mischa Elman, violin/ Joseph Seiger, piano

Vanguard Classics, 65: 47 ****:

Among the distinguished pupils of legendary pedagogue Leopold Auer is Mischa Elman (1891-1967), whose talent I witnessed only once, at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, where he performed both Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky Concertos with Alfredo Antonini. Renowned for his rich and expressive violin tone, Elman also came dangerously close to perpetual sentimentality in his playing, milking the musical phrases with slides and portamenti. In the case of his attachment to Hebrew melodies and arranged chants, this propensity for exaggerated emotion proves an asset, as in the familiar Nigun from Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite. Elman can project a rarified simplicity as well, evident in the tender pathos of Lavry’s Yemenite Wedding from the composer’s Three Jewish Dances.

Much of the music is cast in the same mold, declamation and repeated riffs followed by wistful dances. The cantor-responsorial pattern marks several of the pieces, graced by a sweet lyricism and gentle resignation. Occasionally, as in the Goldfaden piece, an air of exoticism and Eastern incense wafts into our consciousness. Seiger’s piano playing becomes quite dazzling in the Goldfaden piece, as arranged by Anthony Collins. Achron‚s Hebrew Melody found an exponent in Heifetz as well as Elman. Here, Elman’s throaty Recamier Stradivarius finds a perfect vehicle in its plaintive appeals to a higher power. Eili, Eili is a folk song in the Klezmer tradition, quite emotional, featuring several unaccompanied cadenzas of expressive power. The violin arrangement of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre, Op. 47–a piece which even found its way into the classic film The Jazz Singer–becomes the signature piece for this album, which is compounded from two Vanguard LP recordings. Now, let some enterprising soul – say Mark Obert-Thorn – restore Elman’s several RCA inscriptions, such as those he made with neglected conductor Desire Defauw.

— Gary Lemco

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