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Milken Archive - Adolphe: Ladino Songs, Etc

Release Date: 01/20/2004 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559413   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bruce Adolphe
Performer:  Eliot FiskDavid JolleyLucy SheltonErie Mills,   ... 
Conductor:  Gerard SchwarzRodney Winther
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony OrchestraCincinnati College-Conservatory Wind Symphony
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Bruce Adolph is a native New Yorker (b. 1955) and a Juilliard graduate (1976). He also studied independently with Milton Babbitt and Vincent Persichetti, and has composed works for numerous top-name artists and ensembles. Many of his concert, stage, and film scores—though by no means all of them—are Judaically theme based, including the score that accompanies the overview documentary on anti-Semitism that introduces visitors to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

For readers unfamiliar with the roots of Ladino, it is, according to the booklet note, “a hybrid secular Sephardi Jewish language, also known as Judeo-Espagnol, which is a fusion of Castilian Spanish (15th century) and Hebrew, dating from the Spanish Expulsion in
Read more 1492.” Ladino would subsequently become the main vernacular for generations of Mediterranean Sephardi Jews, playing a major role in their literary and folk-art culture. Adolph composed The Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering in 1983 in response to a commission from soprano Lucy Shelton and well-known horn soloist David Jolley. The request was specific: the piece was to be written for soprano, horn, and guitar, which, according to Adolph, seemed at the time like “an acoustic nightmare.” What often appears implausible, even impossible (bumblebees, the laws of physics tell us, should not be able to fly), often defies expectations. The “acoustic nightmare” turned out to be an acoustic dream combination. Voice, horn, and guitar blend in haunting sonorities in these touching poems of love found, love lost, and love unrequited. Poignantly beautiful music in arrestingly beautiful performances by three of America’s leading artists, Lucy Shelton, soprano, Eliot Fisk, guitar, and David Jolley, horn.

Next up is a generous excerpt (nearly 21 minutes) from Adolph’s two-act opera, Mikhoels the Wise. Written for the “Jewish Opera at the Y” series at New York’s 92nd Street YMHA, and first performed there in 1982, the opera is based on a biographical-historical account of the life and career of actor Solomon Mikhoels (1890–1948) who went by the stage name of Solomon Vovsi. Head of the Moscow State Jewish Theater for many years following the Bolshevik revolution, Mikhoels became an unwitting dupe of Stalin, and was eventually murdered by the Soviet secret police. The excerpt offered here is scene 4 of act 1: “A Train Station in Birobidzhan at Midnight,” in which Mikhoels arrives in Birobidzhan where he is met by Sin-Cha, a young Korean telegraph operator from Vladivostok. All of this takes place following the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (1931–2). Sin-Cha, who just happens to speak Yiddish (only in opera!), explains to Mikhoels that the Japanese atrocities against her people have aroused in her a deep sympathy for the plight of the Jews, and that she has come to Birobidzhan to help the Jewish people build a Socialist society of their own. (No wonder Stalin saw in Mikhoels a useful political tool). The music that accompanies this scene is highly colorful and, at times, dramatic. The singing, while more “speechified” than melodic, is nonetheless quite moving, and seems to follow closely the inflections of the instrumental lines. Erie Mills, soprano, who sings the role of Sin-Cha, and Nathaniel Watson, baritone, who sings the role of Mikhoels, both sound quite convincing, as does Gerard Schwarz conducting the Seattle Symphony.

Out of the Whirlwind, which concludes the program, might best be described as a non-liturgical cantata. It consists of six movements, each based on Yiddish songs composed by Holocaust victims, some of whom survived the concentration camps, and others who did not. The work was commissioned by Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the German camps. It was first performed in 1984, one year prior to the anniversary. Scored for mezzo-soprano, tenor, large wind ensemble, piano, harp, and bass, the general style of the work is not too far removed from the Mikhoels the Wise excerpt. Colorful orchestration, frequently punctuated by dramatic outbursts, serves as underpinning to generally declamatory but occasionally soaring vocal lyricism. This is a very beautiful and emotionally wrenching work, and it is gorgeously sung by John Aler, tenor, and Phyllis Pancella, mezzo-soprano. Rodney Winther conducts the College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony most sympathetically.

Of the Naxos Milken Archive discs I have thus far been privileged to hear and review, this one I think is most likely to transcend any parochial considerations. This should enjoy very wide appeal. Highly recommended.

-- Jerry Dubins, Fanfare

Click here to view all available releases in the Milken Archive Series at ArkivMusic.
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Works on This Recording

Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering by Bruce Adolphe
Performer:  Eliot Fisk (Guitar), David Jolley (French Horn), Lucy Shelton (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 01/2001 
Venue:  Colden Center for the Arts, Flushing, NY 
Length: 25 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is sung in Ladino. 
Mikhoels the Wise: Act I, scene 4 - Train Station by Bruce Adolphe
Performer:  Erie Mills (Soprano), Nathaniel Watson (Baritone)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1982; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2000 
Venue:  Chapel, Batsyr University, Seattle, WA 
Length: 20 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Language: English 
Out of the Whirlwind by Bruce Adolphe
Performer:  John Aler (Tenor), Phyllis Pancella (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Rodney Winther
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cincinnati College-Conservatory Wind Symphony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 01/2000 
Venue:  Chapel, Batsyr University, Seattle, WA 
Length: 28 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Language: Yiddish 
Notes: This selection is based on Yiddish songs by Mordkhe Gebirtig, Emil Gorovets and other anonymous composers. 

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