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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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The balm of music

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Seeking a respite for the soul, some silence from the noise of the constant lies uttered against Israel, a restorative balm for emotions still roiling from the IDF’s fighting with Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ successful gambit at the United Nations, I turned last week to music.

I am sure many people, seeking the same result, did so too. 

The late renowned French actor and mime, Marcel Marceau, wrote a great deal about music and silence. Because of his life’s work, he understood how profoundly they combine. “Music is done with silence: silence is full of music,” he wrote. 

But not as many people had the good fortune to find that restorative space of music-filled silence the way I did last week: from three special performers.

Leonard Cohen. Books and biographies have been written about the hoary-headed master poet, author and songwriter. He is an international star whose poetry and music resonate across generations. (Please see the review of the Toronto concert on page 31.)

His voice is a replication of his face, craggy and deeply etched. Starting from his comfortable and comforting talking voice, it reaches to a very low base, essentially scraping the floor. But it was not his voice that held the audience in thrall at the Air Canada Centre last week.

It was the sublime combination of the provocative prose poems, the sophisticated musical arrangements, his obviously affectionate and respectful relationship with the nine musicians and singers at his side on the stage and his commitment to fully entertaining the many thousands who came to hear and see him. 

Cohen held nothing back. 

And in showing our heartfelt appreciation, neither did his audience. 

Alon Goldstein. Fully 36 years younger than Leonard Cohen, Alon Goldstein is one of the most exciting young pianists in the international music world. He plays with flair and flamboyance, emotionally, with great poise and superior technical grace.

Goldstein’s considerable skills were on display at the Roy Thomson Hall. He was the piano solo with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under the guest conductorship of Ainars Rubikis for the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

The program notes euphemistically describe the concerto as “mighty”. In this case  “mighty” refers to tempestuous, ardent and impassioned play. The score demands technical dexterity, finely honed anticipation and of course, enormous self-confidence to “attack” Tchaikovsky’s highly complicated musical statements and soaring flourishes. 

The composer’s instructions attached to the concerto’s three movements are like a road map for the upcoming musical journey: The allegro brillante e molto vivace suggests a sparkling and lively first movement played with a great deal of zest; the andante non troppo means a moderate, walking pace, but not too moderate! And finally, the allegro con fuoco means not only more quickly than the andante but “with fire”.

The Russian composer intended for the piece to musically climb and fall, to move swiftly and cautiously; to stir and to calm. Under Rubikis’ controlled direction and Goldstein’s brilliant playing, they surely faithfully fulfilled Tchaikvsky’s intention.

Myrna Rabinowitz. Between Cohen and Goldstein in years, is angel-voiced Myrna Rabinowitz. A child of survivors, Rabinowitz grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home in Montreal. Yiddish was the rich and emotionally yielding language through which she formed her very first understandings of our world and dreamed her first dreams.

Rabinowitz gently conveys that cultural richness and deeply-welled emotion in her CD recording Lullabies and Longing.

Based today in Vancouver, Rabinowitz is a singer/songwriter of Jewish music, the female vocalist for the Jewish World Band Tzimmes of Vancouver. Five of the 10 songs on Lullabies and Longings are original pieces that Rabinowitz wrote “in loving memory” of her parents and for her grandchildren. 

Rabinowitz poignantly and at times even achingly, as in her rendition of Moyshele Mayn Fraynd (Moshele my friend) captures the innumerable ways in which Yiddish conveys kindliness, vulnerability and surpassing warmth. 

As befitting the types of songs on the CD, Rabinowitz sings tenderly and sometimes tremblingly, seared affection embracing the plain meaning of the words and a patently shining love summoning forth the shuddering memories that her songs evoke.  

Lullabies and Longings is available for purchase at the singer’s website, and in Toronto at Israel’s, and at the Baycrest and Mount Sinai gift shops.

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