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31 July 2007

Review: Vayte Shtern by Vira Lozinsky

Vayte Shtern (Distant Stars)
Vira Lozinsky

Vayte Shtern is the first album released by Yiddish Singer Vira Lozinsky. Ms. Lozinsky, a Moldova-born Israel immigrant, is a fresh voice in the world of Yiddish song. This self-produced album blends Jewish, Moldavian, and Gypsy musical styles in such a way that the listener seems to be transported, becoming part of the landscape of the “old country” in the old days. There is a mix of joy and sadness in these songs that reflects the character of the people who have left, as well as those who stayed.

This is the Yiddish of native speakers, not that of those who simply pick up the lyrics and learn the pronunciation. In fact, nearly half of these songs are from the hand of Lozinsky’s father, Yiddish poet Michael Felsenbaum. This authenticity is such a part of the music that it would be difficult to imagine these songs performed in any other language.

The musical arrangements by Regina Dricker, Lev Kogan, and Hanan Winternitz are sparse, consisting of piano and an occasional clarinet or violin. But this leaves plenty of room for Lozinsky to take us on her musical journey and to delight us with her considerable talent and emotional range.

An interesting effect used on two of the songs is a synthesized wind, which evokes an image of a cold, hard winter in the Shtetl. Another effect is the occasional increased reverb, which gives us a sense of distance, or leaving, or even of a dream.

The songs’ themes range from love and joy to loss and hardship. The album package includes some photos, full Yiddish lyrics, and a limited English translation. I do wish for a full English translation to appear sometime in the near future. But as a musician, the English lyric to Dos Kleyne Tsigaynerl (Little Gypsy) brought home to me the importance of music to the Jewish and Gypsy people:

I am a small but good-looking Gypsy.
I don’t know where I was born.
My mother deserted me, my father was killed.
The only thing that has kept me alive
Is the fiddle that my father left me.
Oh, my fiddle, my dear friend-
You are the only one who knows.

This is an album of great depth and meaning. The music supports the singing, and the singing, without question, draws the listener into the very special world of a unique and interesting blend of cultures. Vayte Shteren by Vira Lozinsky deserves a serious listen and should be added to your collection of Yiddish recordings.

Keith Wolzinger
The Klezmer Podcast