Reviews: Great Songs of the Yiddish Stage

Amy Goldstein is gorgeous in a romantic duet with Simon Spiro from Ellstein’s 1946 Second Avenue Theatre musical, ‘Ikh Bin Farlibt’ (‘I’m in Love’).

— The Washington Jewish Transcript

The performances are nothing short of terrific. The Milken Archives have done things up with a ribbon and a bow. Nothing chintzy here. The singers all know how to put over a song, and, amazingly…Elizabeth Shammash, Nell Snaidas, and Amy Goldstein play the ingenue in love, each from their own point of view. Tenor Benzion Miller and baritone Robert Abelson tug at the heartstrings, depicting, respectively, an immigrant wondering about his small town back in Europe and an old man working as a dishwasher, thrown out by his grown children — a Jewish Lear. Bruce Adler, a terrific comic singer, does the Yiddish mega-hit “Ikh bin a ‘Boarder’ bay mayn Vayb” (“I’m a boarder at my wife’s”). In fact, my only complaint is that he doesn’t do all the verses (did reasons of “propriety” enter into this decision?). Elli Jaffe, leading a Spanish (!) orchestra, provides clean, close, and lively accompaniment…One of my favorite Naxos discs. I’m on the lookout for volume 2

— Classical CD Review

Yiddish songs don’t always mean klezmer music from eastern Europe. Ellstein (1907-1963) worked in the golden age of Broadway, just not in English… He was the only major Yiddish composer of the era born in the United States. His papers also included a Juilliard School of Music education. Ellstein’s songs share their melodic gifts like Richard Rogers, just without the rhymes of Oscar Hammerstein. The jarring thing is hearing clearly American stage music in a language that once belonged to Eastern Europe. Yiddish is now mostly an American language, which is ironic considering the effervescent orchestra on this recording is European, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. The inspired singers include Simon Spiro, Elizabeth Shammash, Amy Goldstein and Robert Bloch.

— Frederick Kaimann, NJ Star Ledger

The composers represented in this set are Abraham Ellstein, David Meyerowitz, Ilia Trilling, Abraham Schwartz, Reuben Doctor, and Herman Yablokoff. Nine singers, all excellent, do the honors: Robert Paul Abelson, Bruce Adler, Robert Bloch, Benzion Miller, Elizabeth Shammash, Joanne Borts, Amy Goldstein, Simon Spiro, and Nell Snaidas. Because complete or authoritative orchestrations for the Yiddish stage have not survived, the Milken Archive commissioned new but historically considered orchestrations, which capture the flavor of the Yiddish theatre. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Ellie Jaffe, evokes its ambience … I found this a joy, and because good music well played and interpreted is ecumenical, one need not be Jewish to enjoy it. There are copious notes, including the texts (in English) of all the songs. Excellent sonics

— Gerald S Fox, American Record Guide

…In Abraham Ellstein: Great Song of the Yiddish Stage, Volume I, 10 singers collaborate in 16 songs of one of America’s great, neglected songwriters and some of his colleagues. In this, as in all of the vocal recordings, translations are supplied, as well as richly informative essays. These five discs are, in imagination, price, value, performance and presentation, a model of what the record industry should be doing to meet the challenges of the 21st century…

— Joe McLellan, classical music critic emeritus of The Washington Post