OVERALL GRADE: A-
Originally recorded as a radio show, OY CHANUKAH! suffers from mediocre sound quality and uneven performances, but it's still invaluable as a collection of Jewish holiday music. Klezmer adapts the styles of many nationalities, incorporating the Polish mazurka and the Argentine tango in a distinctly Yiddish fusion.
The haunting, wistful sounds of the clarinet and flute in quieter pieces contrasts with the shrieking fiddle and howling trombone in up-tempo songs, but striking minor-key themes resonate in both. The narration, too, is largely minor key, with only a few light notes - an explanation of how to cook latkes complete with grating potato and sizzling oil sound effects, a joyous description of winter in a shtetl. There are a few instrumental puns like "The Dreydl Song" - which is not about a toy made out of clay, but about spinning musical phrases.
Still, levity is rare. "Jewish Heroines" tells the story of two women involved in heroic yet horrifying murders. The beautiful lullaby "Shlof, Mayn Kind" gets buried under a depressing narration about those who would destroy the human spirit. "The Struggle For Freedom" mentions the atrocities of the Czarist government and the desire for Moschiach, the Messiah, as part of the Chanukah legend. Teenagers and many adults may need some of these pieces placed into a historical context before they can be enjoyed.
Kids: The songs and narration explicitly discuss the massacre of Jews in Biblical times and in recent European history. Some of the songs are morose and despairing. Not for children under 10.
Adults: Mature listeners will be moved and ultimately uplifted by this collection of Yiddish holiday songs and stories about life before the pogroms in Eastern Europe.
Parental Advisory: "The Eternal Light" talks about dictators trying to snuff out lives. "The Struggle For Freedom" mentions the historical stereotype of cowardly Jews hiding from persecution. "O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh" laments the loss of Jewish pride, power, and a homeland. God is mentioned in a somewhat bitter context.
Half the tracks on this CD are narrations about the history of klezmer, a form of Jewish folk music which incorporates the traditions of many countries where Jews have resided. One track explains how to make latkes; another teaches the rules of the dreydl game. Excellent liner notes identify the instruments and translate Yiddish lyrics.
Many of the faster tracks contain whirling dance music reminiscent of the well-known traditional hora dance. If you're familiar with the wedding scenes from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and the song "L'Chaim," you'll have a good idea what to expect.
1. A Freylekhe Nakht In Gan Eydn - Play
2. Chanukah/Chanukah, The Festival Of Lights - Quiet
3. Khasidm Tants - Party
4. Celebrating In The Shtetl - Quiet
5. Der Bosfor - Play
6. Jewish Heroines - Quiet (Not For Children)
7. Dona, Dona - Play
8. Memories Of Klezmorim - Quiet
9. A Yingele Fun Polyn - Play
10. Klezmorim At Chanukah - Quiet
11. Klezzified - Party
12. Shlof, Mayn Kind/The Eternal Light - Quiet
13. Bruchas - Quiet
14. The Struggle For Freedom - Quiet (Not For Children)
15. O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh - Quiet
16. Making Latkes - Quiet
17. Fayer - Play
18. The Dreydl Game - Quiet
19. The Dreydl Song - Quiet
20. Chanukah Gelt - Quiet
21. Abi Gezunt - Play
22. The Great Yiddish Poets, Oy Chanukah - Quiet
23. Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah! - Play