Collection: Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano

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COMPOSERS: Copland,Eisler,Pick,Schoenberg,Weill
LABELS: Cedille
WORKS: Jewish cabaret, popular and political songs, 1900-1945, by Pick, Weill, Schoenberg, Eisler, Copland
PERFORMER: New Budapest Orpheum Society
CATALOGUE NO: CDR 90000 065

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Despite the boiling inferno of persecution that was to engulf much of European Jewry by the end of the Second World War, the songs featured in this fascinating and strongly projected collection hardly reflect a sense of impending doom.

On the contrary, the emotions that are conveyed tend to range from the sentimental to the satirical, often poking fun at stereotypical notions of the hard-headed Jewish businessman. A strong political dimension is also present, incorporating both a trenchant defiance against the evils of Fascism and a note of optimism manifested through the idealistic visions of the early Zionist movement.

Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano offers listeners tantalising examples of four very distinct genres, beginning with traditional Viennese broadside ballads and then moving on to more modernist cabaret numbers by such diverse figures as Friedrich Holländer and Schoenberg. Not surprisingly Hanns Eisler provides the focal point for the political songs. But perhaps most interesting of all is a group of Zionist songs of which those by Milhaud particularly stand out for their sultry harmonic palette.

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It may seem an extravagance to release such an album on two discs, one offering performances in the original language, the other in English translation. But as Philip Bohlman argues in the exemplary CD booklet, a complete understanding of the texts is absolutely essential in this repertoire. Erik Levi