Jerusalem Quartet / Hila Baggio

The Yiddish Cabaret: Schulhoff, Korngold, Desyatnikov

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A superficial look at this Harmonia Mundi release might lead you to conclude that it's mistitled: only one of the three works on the album consists of cabaret songs, and those are of a contemporary sort, by composer Leonid Desyatnikov. However, just as the song tells you that "life is a cabaret," the phrase "cabaret songs" can be taken in a more general sense. The Desyatnikov songs are suited to lieder evenings and the like that need an unusual item, but the real attraction is the pair of instrumental works, both from German-speaking pre-World War II surroundings, neither one very familiar, and both indeed imbued with the spirit of popular song in different ways. The listener would be hard-pressed to identify the composer of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26, by referring to Korngold's later Hollywood film scores. The work has a Viennese flavor enhanced by chromatic touches reminiscent of Schoenberg and Strauss. More interesting still are the Five Pieces for string quartet of Erwin Schulhoff, who died in a concentration camp in 1942 and remains mightily underrated. Sample any one of these, which seamlessly fuse dance rhythms with chromatic harmonies that were state of the art for 1923. The Jerusalem Quartet plays with total commitment, and Harmonia Mundi contributes excellent studio sound. An impressive release that approaches the idea of Yiddish culture in a novel way.

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