So much has been said and sung about The Holocaust era, yet obviously there is much more to be said. Sometimes I slip into the “too much information” mode about this subject and it takes an extraordinary recording to shake me out of my self-imposed isolation. Voices from the Shadow did just that. Gershon Kingsley composed these musical settings of poetry written by concentration camp prisoners at Auschwitz. In the process, he gave their words an everlasting place in the ears and heart of the listener. The soloists on this recording have the talent and skill to perform this music with enough ownership to make it real for the listener without resorting to melodrama. The instrumental ensemble is an accurate reflection of both the period and culture it refers to, and the chorus sounds united yet not overly polished. The sequence of the individual pieces contains interesting variations of tempo that prevent the music from falling into a trap of sameness.
The CD booklet includes extensive, well-written program notes with texts that are provided in English for each selection, a welcome benefit of those who may not understand the different languages performed in this piece. Those familiar with the children’s poetry from Terezin will appreciate this musical setting of “The Butterfly.” The mood of each composition is set from the first second of the first track and the music remains consistently engaging throughout the disc. The music is vibrant and compelling. Each song brings forth a myriad of emotions that are intricately connected to that time period in world history when some people chose to ignore what was happening, to forget the horrors because it was too hard to admit that man could sin against man in such an unfathomable way. Although it was certainly not the only instance of mass genocide in our world’s history, the Holocaust of World War II was more visible, more real to us, perhaps because it was the first time that the media was able to readily transmit the images that made people begin to grasp the reality of this situation. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cautions us to “Never forget.” This recording reminds us of that and succeeds in putting a human face on this tragedy, giving us a way to experience the emotions of the music without just being scared of it.
The Jazz Psalms, as well as the excerpts from Shabbat for Today and Shiru Ladonai are equally engaging. They provide a balance for the supremely serious subject matter of Voices from the Shadow; and they also reflect a rich cultural heritage that has (thankfully) been preserved in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. Harry Goz’s narration was especially notable – his voice makes you listen and he entertains at the same time. As this music passes from generation, many will gain much from hearing it.
Tracks = Voices from the Shadow: Ver zenen mir? (Who Are We?), Eyner aleyn (All Alone), Come to me, Bombardiers, My Number is 434, Ich mochte gerne… (I’d Like… ), Kindermarchen (Fairy Tales), Theresienstadter Kinderreim (Terezin Nursery Rhyme), Ein Brot (Bread), The Butterfly, Shlof mayn kind (Sleep, My Child), Jeu d’enfant (Child’s Game), Na swojska nute (An Old Melody), Di eybike trep (Never – ending Stairs), Segen der Nacht (Night Blessing), Shpalt zikh, Himl! (Split Open, Heaven), Maj 1945 (May 1945), Finale: Ver zenen mir (reprise); Jazz Psalms: Hashkivenu, Yism’hu; Shabbat for Today: Bar’khu, Sh’ma yisra’el, Mi khamokha, V’sham’ru, May the Words of My Mouth, S’u sh’arim; Shiru Ladonai: L’kha dodi, Hashkivenu, Silent Devotion and Yih’yu l’ratzon, Vay’khullu, Kiddush.
– Ann Stahmer