Gil Shaham / Orli Shaham

Nigunim: Hebrew Melodies

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Many if not most performers of Jewish background have recorded albums of material referring to Jewish musical traditions. Violinist Gil Shaham and his pianist sister Orli Shaham deserve credit here for bending the formula in some original ways. There are a few of the general hits that show up in programs of this kind: violin-and-piano arrangements of Ernest Bloch's Baal Shem, which displays Gil Shaham's characteristic burnished tone at its best, and of three items from the score to Schindler's List by John Williams. Williams was not Jewish, and these chamber readings offer a somehow fascinating window on exactly how he manipulated the features of Jewish music to suggest the themes involved. The rest of the pieces are much less common, and it is here that the real interest lies. The highlight is a work by contemporary Israeli composer Avner Dorman, which draws on Jewish traditions from a wide swath of the globe, including religious cantillation; the work's title, and that of the album, means melodic improvisation, and the composition suggests this in multiple ways. Nigunim was composed for the two performers. The works by Joseph Achron are folkloristic in nature, while the Danse hebraïque by Josef Bonime, born in Lithuania and later a Hollywood-based player and accompanist to Mischa Elman, is a fine short essay in the Bloch vein. The Shahams here have not only paid tribute to their origins but also explored worthwhile and underexposed music.

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