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Music review: Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot in 'The Soul Of Jewish Music' at the Saban Theatre

March 31, 2011 | 12:02 pm

Itzhak Perlman performances are usually arranged well in advance, but his concert Wednesday night was patched together in a matter of weeks.  It was a benefit for the Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, “The Soul of Jewish Music,” at the Saban Theatre in which the great violinist resumed his exploration of his roots.  

Perlman has done something like this before -– and rather convincingly –- with no less than four different klezmer revival bands on a pair of CDs and a video in 1995-96 (now reissued as a three-disc package, “Perlman Plays Klezmer,” on EMI).  For this concert he added the Jewish cantorial tradition to the mix in the person of Israel’s Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, plus a chamber orchestra augmenting members of Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band.      

It was a juxtaposition of concert-hall dignity and mad populist exuberance, with the partisan audience rhythmically clapping along at the slightest provocation.  Perlman’s presence amounted to luxury-class casting -– and indeed, not only did he sound comfortable with the tiny glides and assorted appoggiatura of Jewish music, his playing in general was smoother and more even than it has been recently.  There was also some room for the irrepressible showman to tell a few jokes. 

Cantor Helfgot’s high-flying tenor keened and soared in impressively sustained stretches, but the true power of his voice could only be guessed at through a sound system that gave it a piercing quality (was amplification really necessary for a large ensemble with no electric instruments?).  He scored with some pieces from the repertoire of Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt –- the “Jewish Caruso” of the 1910s and '20s -– including “Shoifer Shel Moshiach” and “My Yiddische Momme.”

The practiced experts in the Klezmer Conservatory Band –- minus an accordion but including a tsimbl (a small Jewish hammer dulcimer) –- could ignite wild dance rhythms at the drop of a hat.  Hankus Netsky energetically led the band and chamber orchestra -– whose ranks included Perlman’s buddy Lynn Harrell in the cello section –- from the piano.

The plan is for “The Soul of Jewish Music” to tour and be recorded in the near future.  One suspects that Perlman can hardly wait.

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-– Richard S. Ginell

 

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