Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Theodore Bikel: “Treasury Of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs” (2014) CD Review

Theodore Bikel is an accomplished actor, singer, musician and composer. He played Captain von Trapp in The Sound Of Music on Broadway, and has starred in films like My Fair Lady, I Bury The Living and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. Beginning in the 1950s he recorded several albums of Jewish folks songs. Theodore Bikel’s Treasury Of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs collects tracks from three different records. I don’t speak Yiddish, but the liner notes provide English translations of the lyrics, as well as phonetic Yiddish (and a pronunciation guide). The liner notes also include a piece by Theo Bikel himself.

There is certainly a sense of humor in these recordings, with material that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. For example, there is a song titled “Bagels,” with lines like “My clothes are torn, I am unwashed/With tortured thoughts I wander about/Buy bagels/Fresh bagels/Buy quickly please/I need to sell/For I am poor and lost/And homeless in this world.” I love the serious situation followed by lines about selling bagels. What I also love is that the song features the deliciously sad sounds of a violin to help tell the tale. And at the end, the seller wanders off, calling out about his wares. And there is a track titled “In-Laws,” with the line “And here’s cousin Mindik/Have we sinned so?” Wonderful!

Some of these songs will be familiar to you, whatever your ethnic or religious background. And without understanding a word, I find these songs are still effective and completely enjoyable. I just love the sound of this music, and the passion behind it.

This collection kicks off with “A Chasene Tants,” or “Wedding Dance,” which is kind of fun and does make me wish I could speak the language. But regardless, this track makes me laugh when he lists the children toward the end. “Doina” is such a great song, and I particularly enjoy the fast pace of the vocal delivery. And then “Mayn Shtetele Belz” is sweet and moving, and puts a smile on my face. “Lomir Alle Zingen” is kind of beautiful at times.

“A Fidler” is a cute, adorable song about a kid learning to play the fiddle, and the fiddler on this track plays as if learning his instrument at the beginning. “Drei Techterlech,” or “Three Daughters,” is another that has a delightful sense of humor. It’s about a father eager to marry off his three daughters, and who, once having completed that task, is then sad. After marrying off the eldest, he sings, “Only God can know our joy/Or one who has a daughter.” And after getting rid of the second daughter, he sings, “A stone gone from my heart.”

“Dona Dona” is one that everyone likely knows, and it’s a wonderful track. I’m particularly happy to have the English translation, for though I’ve heard – and enjoyed – this song many times, I’d never known what was actually being said. I love Theodore’s delivery, with a bit of a laugh in his voice at times, as when he sings “You’re a calf but need you be?” and when he sings about the wind laughing.

“Der Rebe Elimelech” is another song I love. Music like this has always attracted me, when the pace suddenly picks up, with the feel of unbridled celebration taking over the singer and musicians. And I love the violin. This is one of my favorites of this collection. I'm also really fond of “Margaritkelech,” a pretty song telling a good tale. Another favorite is “Tumbalalayka,” which is beautiful and moving. Check out these lyrics: “It's a stone that can grow, grow without rain/It's a love that can burn for many years/And the heart can long and cry without tears.”

CD Track List
  1. A Chasene Tants
  2. Doina
  3. Beygelach
  4. Di Grine Kuzine
  5. A Pintale
  6. Machatonim
  7. Shabes Shabes
  8. Mayn Shtetele Belz
  9. Hulyet, Hulyet Kinderlech
  10. Lomir Alle Zingen
  11. A Zemer
  12. A Fidler
  13. Drei Techterlech
  14. Kinder Yorn
  15. Dona Dona
  16. Unter A Kleyn Beymele
  17. Drei Yingelech
  18. Az Der Rebbe Zingt
  19. Der Rebe Elimelech
  20. Di Younevdike Teyg
  21. Kum Aher Du Filozof
  22. Di Mezinke
  23. Margaritkelech
  24. Lomir Zich Iberbeten
  25. A Chazn Oyf Shabes
  26. Tumbalalayka
Theodore Bikel’s Treasury Of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs was released on December 2, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

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