It's less than two weeks to Rosh Hashana and the High Holydays. Some months ago I was looking through Chicago Yiddish newspapers from the late 1920s. I was looking for a mention of my grandfather who may have spent some time in Chicago. I didn't find him but what did show up were advertisements for High Holyday services featuring visiting cantors. The ads are fascinating snapshots of a different age. One ad for Luck Strike cigarettes featured a cantor in full regalia with cantorial hat, robes and tallit. He is holding a lit cigarette, The Yiddish reads: "If you smoke Lucky Strike, you will sound like the Cantor".
One of the High Holydays cantorial ads was for the great Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. Under the heading "Chamisho mee yodea?" ("Who knows Five?), Cantor Rosenblatt advertizes his four man cantorial chorale. Cantor Rosenblatt, or Yossele brought the opera to the synagogue. With his distinctive cantorial falsetto, dramatic tenor range and ambitious melismatic flourishes he brought glamor to the services. As a devout man, this translated not as ego but as bringing majesty to services.
Yossele's appeal is perennial. The original 78s have been re-released as 33s, cassettes and CDs. Now, a cantorial enthusiast has taken it a step further.
A colleague, Cantor Arik Luck, of Temple Beth Emet in Evanston pointed me to this article
Cantor Luck is one of several young Reform cantors who are introducing traditional chazzonus (cantorial music) to Reform temples. This is a fascinating new development. He is presenting a sermon-in-song on Rosh Hashanah on Cantor Rosenblatt's setting "Kee Vee Yirbuu/ Hayom Te'amtsenu".
So, I ordered the 3 volume set. They arrived this week.
My impression is mixed. On he plus side, Cantor Rosenblatt's voice is crystal clear. The cantorial enthusiast behind this project, Mendel Werdyger cleaned up the static. That's a treat to hear. Some of the new choral material and instrumentals, particularly the violin, add lustre to Rosenblatt's settings.
Yet, some of the static scubbing goes too far. The piano, at times sounds lie a honkey-tonk, at other times, it sounds electronic. Some of the additional choral vocals are overdone. Finally, the new material does not merge well with the original sound from the 1920s.
If you are a Rosenblatt enthusiast, this wis worth investigating. Start with one CD, or just listen to the four tracks available in the New York Times article and decide for yourself.