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28 May 2008

Review: Chaunkah Is Freylekh

Review: Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two
The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble

The title says it all. Chanukah Is Freylekh is full of songs I’ve never heard.  These songs are set in a true Klezmer style, which brings a wealth of emotion and authenticity that you can’t get with the “traditional” Hebrew Chanukah repertoire.

Lori Cahan-Simon has researched the songs presented here and provides a wealth of information along with outstanding performances and arrangements. The ensemble performance is spot-on and contributes a richness to the album that is a perfect complement to Cahan-Simon’s vocals. The ensemble gets plenty of time between song verses to showcase their considerable talent with a perfect interpretation of this eastern-European Klezmer material.

While I like the melodies and lyrics of these songs, one stands out for me. Take a look at the English lyrics for Borekh Ate- Blessed Art Thou:

“Blessed art Thou,” sings father 
And he lights the candles. 
And their light falls softly 
On his pale countenance.
And a fire, holy and dear 
Shines in his eyes. 
And his weary limbs stand
Tall and strong.
And it seems and it appears: 
There is still something here. 
Something has remained to love, 
Holy is this hour.
Old sounds long gone... 
No, I hear them still. 
Sing for me, Father, “Blessed art Thou”
And I remain your child.

This is clearly not a children’s Chanukah song, but speaks of the sacred moment of  “Father” lighting the candles and singing the blessings.

One familiar song is Ver Ken Dertseyln, the Hebrew Mi Yimalel. This song gets the full Klezmer treatment, with a lovely Doina introduction, and the newly composed Katshke’s Khanike Freylekhs by Adrienne Greenbaum to complement the Yiddish lyrics. I enjoy this combination of old and new material very much. It gives this album a uniqueness that never becomes tiring.

Two songs that I find fascinating are Di Khanike Likht and O, Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh. Both have the same lyrics, but are set to different Russian melodies. The former is a a two-part slow/fast Russian cafe song, while the latter is a lovely Russian waltz. I like them both, and find the contrast to be a highlight of the album. It reminds me that many of our Jewish liturgical songs  have several melodies for the same lyrics. It appears that the same applies to Yiddish song as well.

One last song I must mention is the slow waltz Akht Likhtelekh, a delicate piece featuring a flute/guitar duet backing Cahan-Simon’s lovely vocal. The song is about the Chanukah candles, but sounds more like a love song. But don’t we all love our Chaukah candles?

The album sounds amazing. The mix is done right, with every instrument clear and distinct, without a lot of the annoying reverb on the vocal that seems commonplace today. A simple and pure sound that doesn’t get in the way of the music, thanks to Henry Shapiro (who also appears on the album).

The included 28-page booklet is a mini-compendium of Yiddish song. Cahan-Simon provides an introduction, extensive notes and translations of the songs, as well as detailed descriptions of the many dances that accompany the music. A lot of effort went into compiling this material, and it is a great supplement to the music.

Cahan-Simon states: “My mission is to encourage the revitalization and renewal of Yiddish in American Jewish life, educating through the arts and introducing Yiddish to a new generation through enjoyable activities such as song, story, dance, games, theater, and cooking; and to disseminate the material, instilling a love for the culture in young children, families, and the larger community.”

She plans to release a dozen more albums in the series, and I hope she reaches her goal. The Yiddish revival seems to be in high gear and the Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble is in a perfect place to spread the joy. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in keeping the Yiddish culture alive.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two

Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble
LCS 003

1. Khanike    iz    freylekh/ Chanukah is Happy       1:50
2. Tsindt    on    likhtlekh        (A    khanike    lid)/    Khanike-marsh    (Tsindt    on    di    likhtlekh)
    Light the Candles (A Chanukah Song) / Chanukah-March (Light the Candles)       3:01 
3. Kinder    haynt    iz    khanike    /    Mir    zenen    khanike    likhtlekh    /    Naftule,    shpil    es           nokh    a    mol 
    Children, Today is Chanukah / We are Chanukah Candles / Naftule, Play it Again    4:27
4. Borekh    ate  –  Blessed art Thou    3:23   
5. Di    khanike    likht – The Chanukah Candles    3:06
6. Drey    zikh,    dreydele – Spin, Little Dreydl    3:00 
7. Ver    ken    dertseyln    (Mi    Yimalel)/Katshkes    khanike    freylekhs
    Who Can Retell/Katshke’s Chanukah Freylekhs    5:18
8. O,    ir    kleyne    likhtelekh – Oh, You Little Candles    3:49
9. A    lid    fun    khanike –  A Song of Chanukah     6:00
10. Ven    kh’tsindt    on    di    likhtlekh    on,    di    akht –
      When I Light the Eight Candles    3:05 
11. Zogt    nor,    zogt    /    Ikh    bin    a    latke    /    Ikh    hob    a    kleyn    dreydl    (Dos    Dreydl) 
      Just Tell Me, Tell / I am a Latke / I Have a Little Dreydl (The Dreydl)    2:39
12. Sheoso    nisim – He Who Performed Miracles     2:51
13. Ikh    bin    a    kleyner    dreydl – I am a Little Dreydl / Sirba in C    2:20  
14. Akht    Likhtlekh    – Eight Little Candles    2:57
15. Di    khanike    teg    akht – The Eight Days of Chanukah    3:52  
16. Al    hanisim – For the Miracles    4:43
17. Oy    khanike,    oy    khanike – Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah     3:28

Lori Cahan-Simon

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