Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul (CD review)

Itzhak Perlman, violin; Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. Sony Classical 88725 42006 2.

For the past four decades and more, Itzhak Perlman has been among the world’s premiere violinists; for many fans, the world’s greatest violinist. Not only has he recorded practically every violin concerto ever written, he has teamed up over the years with other prominent artists in recordings with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Andre Previn, to name a few. This time, he shares the spotlight with Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, Chief Cantor of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue, and two small, supporting ensembles in an album of Jewish liturgical music that, as with everything he’s done before, makes for glorious listening.

So, what is an album of Jewish liturgical music all about? Let me quote from the album’s coproducer and music supervisor, Hankus Netsky: “It’s part concert music, part improvisation--very ethnic and the culmination of thousands of years of culture. It’s roots music--big-time roots music. It’s Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian and gypsy-influenced folk music with a very strong Jewish accent--as if it’s a Jewish prayer. At the same time, khazones (classic Jewish cantorial music, the traditional music sung by the cantor in Jewish religious services) can be considered Jewish classical music, not European concert classical music by Jewish composers but an art form in the way of tradition that raga is an Indian music. They took their religious liturgy and essentially made love songs to God.” The program insert goes on to say, “Elements of Yiddish folk song and theater music, Hassidic song and prayer, and klezmer music (traditional Jewish folk tunes and bands that play them) all surface within the liturgical canon of Khazones--songs and dances for the soul.”

Both artists, Perlman and Helfgot, show their virtuosic talents to good advantage. Perlman has lost none of the spark, spontaneity, precision, and feeling he has always shown in his music making. And Cantor Helfgot’s voice is simply amazing. It combines all the qualities of Perlman’s violin with the addition of sheer power, rich inflection, remarkable flexibility, and clean tone. The purity of both instruments--Perlman’s violin and Helfgot’s voice--provides a uniquely triumphant duo and one of the most pleasurable, listenable albums of the year.

Sony recorded Eternal Voices at Avatar Studios, New York City, in 2011, and it comes with the usual advantages and disadvantages of a typical studio recording. On the plus side, the sound is beautifully clear, rendering the cantor’s voice extremely lifelike and Perlman’s violin crisp and realistic. The engineers recorded both them and the accompaniment rather closely, however, which is why we get such startling clarity but also why the sound doesn’t capture much ambient information. So, as clear as it is, the acoustic isn’t entirely natural, nor do the orchestral ensembles appear too well integrated acoustically, the disc making them seem a bit two-dimensional. In other words, the recording quality is wonderfully lucid at the expense of producing more of a 2-D experience rather than a multidimensional one.

Let me close with only two criticisms, quite minor. First, at a little under an hour of playing time, the disc left me wanting to hear much more. Second, the album cover looks unsightly to me: two faces against a black background with a busy jumble of words across the top and bottom. But who cares about such trivialities when the music is so splendid.


1 comment:

  1. I wasn't quite sure -- too precious maybe -- but your usual fine review pushed me decidedly over the fence: can't wait to get it!


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa