This is one of the most appealing of the continuing series of Naxos releases in their American Classics series of recordings from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. The disc opens with the short and moving Kurt Weill arrangement of the anthem of the modern Zionist movement. Julius Chajes was a concert pianist and conductor who settle in American as a refugee from the Third Reich. He lived for two years in Palestine, where his exposure to the Mediterranean style of Jewish composition as well as Arabic and Hebrew folk music, helped shape his later orchestral compositions. He later performed his own piano concerto with the Detroit Symphony and his catalog ranges from works for full symphony to concert choral settings. Chajes’ three suites on the CD partake of Jewish and Israeli themes.
The Vienna Boys Choir is heard in the Israel Suite by Helfman, a Polish Jewish composer who emigrated to the U.S. at age eight. He helped to found The Brandeis Arts Institute – a sort of “Jewish Interlochen.” Herbert Fromm, who lived until 1995, was one of the most widely published composer of synagogue and other Jewish music among those who found refuge in the U.S. in the 1930s from the Third Reich. Several full liturgical services and prayer settings are part of his large opera, but his Yemenite Cycle dates from his first visit to Israel in 1960. The composer was drawn to the modalities, rhythms and other features of Yemenite Jewish folksong. Some lovely flute solos are featured in the suite.
The concluding work on the disc is an eleven-minute romp from Sholom Secunda, a composer remembered primarily for his association with the American Yiddish musical theater. A native of the Ukraine, he created from a musical Uncle Sam in Israel a concert piece about modern Israel titled A Day on a Kibbutz. The piece – which utilizes material from the musical as well as new material – is designed to depict programmatically life on a typical kibbutz. Well, this seems to be a really swinging kibbutz, what with shades of Harold Arlen, Gershwin and Bernstein in the rollicking and jazzy score!
– John Sunier