Introduction by Rabbi Rodney Mariner:
On the 9th and 10th of November 1938, the Nazi pogroms (subsequently and cynically referred to as Kristallnacht) effectively served notice that the Jewish communities of Germany and Central Europe were beyond the protection of the law. Discrimination and persecution had grown in intensity and audacity since 1933 and a German-speaking Diaspora comprising those Jews who had been able to find refuge in other countries, had already begun to form. Britain had been one of the few counties prepared to open its doors.
Belsize Square Synagogue was founded in March 1939 by these German-speaking Jews who had lost everything but their willingness to support each other in the darkness of their exile. The hardships that they endured were compounded by the fact that for many of their English neighbours, they were unwelcome foreigners and 'Jewish to boot'. Perversely, many of their British-born co-religionists treated them with contempt as “loyal Germans”.
70 years on, Belsize Square Synagogue wishes to remember not only the richness of the Jewish life and culture that was buried beneath the ashes and shattered glass of the November pogroms but to give thanks and celebrate in song, the establishment of our unique community. Despite the circumstance that brought our synagogue into being, it became from the outset a haven for those who had been torn from their roots. Here they learned to love and laugh again, find work, marry, have children and live in hope of a better future.
These founding members were from the Liberal (Liberale) strand of Judaism, which had no exact equivalent in England. Whereas continental Orthodox Jews and those who had been part of the Reform Movement readily integrated with established English congregations, there existed no comparable communities which could provide a home for either the ethos or the form of service to which the founders of Belsize Square Synagogue had been accustomed. The Liberale Gemeinde which had been centered on synagogues in Berlin, Frankfurt-on-Main and Breslau, could trace its origins to the early Nineteenth Century which, through the Enlightenment, had brought emancipation and the opportunity for Jews to reside outside of the ghettos and to enter the professions as never before and to live a relatively normal existence with their Christian neighbours.
The reforms in synagogue music during the Nineteenth Century were among the most profound and controversial expressions of this new-found freedom. They involved the introduction of the organ, the composition of new melodies to rival the contemporary ecclesiastical style, the reshaping of traditional singing based on a four-part choral mode and the singing of sections of the liturgy in German. Contrary to some of the criticisms of our day, these changes were less a mindless attempt to assimilate to the prevailing Christian culture, than a concerted effort to stem the flow of the young to the baptismal font. The Liberale Gemeinde sought to create the aesthetically pleasing, spiritually elevating atmosphere, that was so admired in the Christian form of service and at the same time to preserve as much as possible of their Jewish heritage.
The preservers and shapers of this tradition have been primarily the Chazanim (Cantors). Magnus Davidsohn, our first Chazan, served the congregation together with Rabbi Dr. Georg Salzberger and was the authentic voice of the Berlin tradition. Davidsohn's specific contribution to this compilation lies in his rescuing the music scores from his burning synagogue, Fasanenstrasse Synagogue on the day following Kristallnacht. Joseph Dollinger, who served with Rabbi Jakob J. Kokotek, was the embodiment of the golden age of Eastern European Chazanut which was the perfect foil to the operatic compositions of the Nineteenth Century; his expertise of interpretation and improvisation based on the nusach provided the necessary setting in which these magnificent compositions could continue to inspire and not dominate. Louis Berkman brought to bear on the liturgy both his operatic voice and temperament. Lawrence Fine served the congregation as Chazan for 22 years until his retirement in 2004; he applied the philosophy of his training at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York without compromising the community's musical heritage. Norman Cohen-Falah who trained in Buenos Aires became our Chazan in 2004; in addition to his youth he brings to our music a knowledge and understanding of both Eastern European and Oriental modes chazanut that has both broadened and enriched our repertoire.
The repertoire of Belsize Square Synagogue has been dominated by two composers, Salomon Sulzer (b. 1804) a contemporary and friend of Franz Schubert, and Louis Lewandowski (b. 1821) a contemporary of Felix Mendelssohn. Of the two, Lewandowski is represented to a greater extent on this recording but Sulzer is accorded the honour of commencing this collection. That there are many other composers included here, is an indication that the musical structure of the synagogue is not static. Rather, it is a demonstration of the musical vitality of this community which has not accepted its heritage as an ancient artifact but as a living tradition, a resource to be used to enhance the service in conjunction with needs of contemporary worshippers. Sue Mariner in collaboration with Joseph Dollinger composed this setting for Hashkiveinu with a theme that was remembered by Dollinger from his youth in Poland. Her setting of Psalm 111 was written with David Lawrence and Andrew Levy for the 50th Jubilee of the congregation and has been part of the services of celebration for both the 60th and 70th anniversary services. Heinrich Schalit's V'Shamru, with its striking, contemporary harmonies, as with several other settings such as Psalms 92 and 93 and Hashkiveinu, is used at Belsize Square for Shabbat evening services that fall in Festivals to heighten the mood. Isadore Freed's striking setting of Shachar Avakesh'cha along with Norman Cohen-Falah's lyrical Adir Adireinu introduce a contemporary voice that harmonises with the grand tones of nineteenth century German romanticism.
The Congregation's Hebrew name is Etz Chayim meaning Tree of Life. The image chosen for the mantle for the Jubilee Sefer Torah was that of a tree cut down to its roots which, by virtue of their vigour had again burgeoned into life on ancient stock. My wife Sue and I commissioned a concerto from Benjamin Wolf to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this unique community through its musical heritage. The title of the concerto reflects a community who are not simply survivors and their descendants, but Jews who have survived and through whose efforts, a significant form of Judaism continues to flourish.
This CD was conceived as a companion to the 1996 recording of the High Holyday music of Belsize Square Synagogue. Its title, Todah V'Zimrah, which means "gratitude and song" reflects the context and the reasoning behind the contents of this recording. The context is the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Belsize Square Synagogue. The content is drawn from the annual cycle of joyous festivals which have as their dominant theme, the celebration of renewal and survival. The tone of these festivals is reflected in the Hallel and its emphasis on gratitude, praise and celebration. These prayers set to such fulsome melodies still have the capacity to evoke the vast spaces of the "cathedral" synagogues destroyed more than 70 years ago. These songs of praise and joy soared to the very top of their star-spangled domes and still evoke in the mind's eye, the splendour and fervour that those buildings contained before their barbaric desecration and destruction. Though the buildings are no more, these melodies can still proclaim not only gratitude for the gift of life, but a resolute belief in the progress of humanity.
Rabbi Rodney Mariner
Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov…'How good are your tents O Jacob, your homes O Israel'
The text is a compilation of verses that are traditionally recited upon entering a synagogue.
2. Tov L’hodot (Evening Prayers)
Tov l'hodot Ladonai…'It is good to give thanks to Adonai'
3. Adonai Malach (Evening Prayers)
Adonai malach gei'ut laveish…'Adonai rules, clothed in majesty'
4. Hashkiveinu (Evening Prayers)
Sue Mariner and Joseph Dollinger - (Soloist: Madeleine Ladell)
Hashkiveinu Adonai Eloheinu l'shalom…'Adonai our God, help us to lie down in peace'
5. V’shamru (Evening Prayers)
V'shamru v'nei Yisrael et haShabbat…'And Israel shall keep the Shabbat' (Exodus 31:16-17)
6. Shachar Avakesh’cha (Morning Prayers)
Isadore Freed - (Soloist: Madeleine Ladell)
Shachar avakesh'cha, tzuri umisgabi…'Each dawn I seek You, my rock and my refuge'
The text is a poem by the celebrated poet of 11th Century Spain, Ibn Gabirol
Selections from Hallel (Tracks 7 to 17)
A sequence of six Psalms (113-118), which are proclaimed as a unit on joyous occasions; most particularly, the morning service for the three Pilgrim Festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Succot comprising:
7. Psalm 113
Halleluyah! Hallelu avdei Adonai…'Sing praises you servants of Adonai'
8. Psalm 114
B'tzeit Yisra'el miMitzrayim…'When Israel went out of the land of Egypt'
9. From Psalm 115
a) Adonai z'charanu y'vareich…'Adonai will remember with blessing'
b) Hashamayim shamayim Ladonai…'The heavens belong to Adonai'
10. From Psalm 116
Mah Ashiv Ladonai…'How can I repay Adonai..?'
11. Psalm 117
Hallelu et Adonai kol goyim…'Praise Adonai all nations'
12 to 16. From Psalm 118
12. (Shavuot mode)
Hodu Ladonai ki tov…'Give thanks to Adonai who is goodness'
13. Traditional Sephardi melody
Min hameitzar karati Yah…'In my distress I called to Adonai'
14. Louis Lewandowski
Pitchu li sha'arei tzedek …'This is the gateway of the righteous'
Od'cha ki anitani…'I praise You for having answered me'
15. (Succot mode)
Ana Adonai hoshiah na…'Deliver us Adonai, we implore You'
Baruch haba b'shem Adonai…'Blessed in the name of Adonai are all who come'
17. Conclusion of Hallel
Yehal‘lucha Adonai Eloheinu kol ma'asecha…'May all creation praise You Adonai our God'
18. Adonai Adonai
Recited three times on Festival weekdays during the Torah service
Adonai, Adonai, El rachum v'chanun…'Adonai, Adonai, God, compassionate and gracious...'
(from Exodus 34:6-7) The 13 attributes of God as revealed to Moses
19. Ladonai Ha'aretz
Recited on weekdays during the Torah service
Ladonai ha'aretz um'lo'ah…'The earth and its fullness belong to Adonai'
20. Kedushah (and Adir Adireinu)
Sue Mariner (and Norman Cohen Falah) - (Soloist: Philippa Murray)
A sequence of quotations that elaborate the third benediction of the Mussaf Amidah and include Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Adonai tzeva'ot…'Holy, holy, holy is Adonai, commander of all.'
21. Jahres Kaddish
Traditional arr. Norman Cohen Falah
On Simchat Torah the principal concluding prayer reprises the musical themes of the major festivals.
22. Sisu V’simchu
Sisu v’simchu b’Simchat Torah…'Rejoice and be glad on Simchat Torah'
23. Psalm 111
Sue Mariner, David Lawrence and Andrew Levy - (Soloists: Philippa Murray & Alyson Denza)
Odeh Adonai b'chol leivav…'I will thank Adonai with all my heart'
The Tree of Life Concerto
(Recorded live at the 70th Anniversary concert of
Belsize Square Synagogue on 1st March, 2009)
24. First movement
25. Second Movement
26. Third Movement
While this concerto is not entirely programmatic, it does to some extent try to tell a story: the story of the transfer of a community (and a body of music) from nineteenth-century Germany to twentieth-century England, as a consequence of the enforced exile of European Jewry before and during the Second World War. One of the consequences of this exile was the creation of Belsize Square Synagogue. Given the nature of this story, the piece is both contemplative – particularly in its first two movements – and, as befits this anniversary occasion, celebratory. Its specific connection with Belsize Square comes from the combination of original melodies and motifs with quotations from music by the nineteenth-century composers Lewandowski and Sulzer (whose music is regularly performed at the synagogue) and those associated with Jewish festivals.
The first movement is a kind of dialogue between cello and orchestra, similar to the dialogue between cantor and congregation, incorporating modal elements, aspects of Shabbat morning nusach and snippets of Lewandowski. It opens with a fanfare motif on solo trumpet (a motif that recurs at various points in the concerto, usually to introduce a new section). The strings then enter with a motif derived from Lewandowski’s F-Major Ma Tovu. The cello’s entry (again using the same fanfare motif) leads to a more modal section (based around the natural minor scale, which is one of the chief modes used in Jewish prayer). This scale also forms the basis of a slower, more contemplative melody that follows. The remainder of the movement combines this melody with music derived from the opening motifs and the cello’s opening modal section, culminating in a fortissimo, F-minor passage in the strings, and a pianissimo trio between piano, trumpet and cello.
The second movement is more menacing (or haunting) in tone, evoking the uncertainty of exile, and the events of the 1930s and 1940s. The slow string motif that opens the movement gradually gathers pace, before the cello begins a Danse Macabre (again introduced by the fanfare motif). As befits the more mournful tone of the movement, the cello uses a brief quotation from Lewandowski’s setting of Tavo L’Fanecha (from the
High Holiday liturgy) as an introduction to a central melody. This melody is then combined with another part of Belsize Square’s High Holiday liturgy – Lewandowski’s setting of Ya Shimcha (from the Neilah service on Yom Kippur). As in the first movement, aspects of these different melodies are combined before a recapitulation of the Danse Macabre, and a rather questioning end to the movement.
All three movements of this concerto are unified in some way by the use of F – the key that seems most dominant in Belsize Square’s liturgy. The third movement begins with two quotations from music written in this key – Sulzer’s L’Cha Dodi (on the flute) and Lewandowski’s Ma Tovu (on solo violin). These motifs are both altered and combined with a more modal cello solo, leading to a fast, repetitive figure in the strings and piano. This in turn introduces four fast sub-sections: a slightly dissonant and dance-like version of the Tavo L’Fanecha melody; the familiar Sukkot melody; the Pesach Adir Hu melody; and a melody derived from the Rad Halayla tune used on Simchat Torah. While these sections are more joyful than the preceding movements, the dissonant element is not completely lost, and one of the more mournful melodies from earlier movements is heard again. The movement, however, ends in tranquillity – a mood introduced by the recapitulation of the melody from Sulzer’s L’Cha Dodi. This is followed by the same pulsing motif as at the beginning of the movement, and a short, but fully romantic rendition of the melody recently heard in mournful guise. The Etz Chayim Concerto concludes softly, calmly and restfully, on an F-major chord.
Benjamin Wolf studied at University College, Oxford, Trinity College of Music and King’s College, London. As orchestral conductor he performs regularly with The Wallace Ensemble, a young professional orchestra of which he is co-founder. Activities with this orchestra have included a first CD (recorded in summer 2007), a concert of Israeli/orchestral klezmer music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the inaugural Wallace Ensemble composition prize. He has conducted for the BBC Proms, and participated in masterclasses with Benjamin Zander and the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Montgomery and the National Symphony Orchestra of Lithuania, and Stephen Cleobury and the BBC Singers.
Since becoming Musical Director of The Zemel Choir in 2003, he has performed at venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, St John’s, Smith Square, St James’ Church, Piccadilly and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In January 2005 he conducted The Zemel Choir in a special edition of the BBC’s Songs of Praise, and in November of the same year he conducted the choir in its 50th anniversary concert at St John’s Smith Square. Recent engagements have included a concert at the Purcell Room, a European tour and the Zemel Choir’s new festival, Celebrate with Song, at St John’s, Smith Square. He is Musical Director of the Rushmoor Choir of Aldershot, and regularly conducts the Quorum Chamber Choir, with whom he has toured Tuscany and Cornwall.
Increasingly active as a composer, his work Siren Song (set to a text from Homer’s Odyssey) has recently been performed at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Magdalen College, Oxford. Previous commissions include the incidental music for an adaptation of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market at the Southwark Playhouse, and for Frederic Lonsdale’s Canaries Sometime Sing (performed in London and France in 2003). He has written a number of pieces for the Zemel Choir, and his first piano concerto, L’Chaim, was performed by The Wallace Ensemble in 2003.
As pianist, he performs regularly with a number of singers and instrumentalists, including tenor Marc Finer and mezzo-soprano Ruti Halvani. He has also played for cantors Robert Brody, Avromi Freilich and Yitschak Meir Helfgott.
In 2006 he was appointed Choirmaster of Belsize Square Synagogue. In 2007 he was commissioned to write the Etz Chayim cello concerto to mark the 70th Anniversary of the synagogue’s establishment (taking place in March 2009), of which this recording is the premiere.
In addition to his work as a performer, he is currently studying for a PhD in the social history of twentieth-century music.
Norman Cohen Falah was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1973, the son of an Ashkenazi mother and Sephardi father.
He studied chazanut at the Latin-American Rabbinical Seminary and music, guitar and piano at the National Conservatory of Music in Buenos Aires. He was a pupil of Flora Yungerman and Elke Schildmeijer and the renowned Cantor Cesar Beleny. He has participated in seminars exploring the Torah and musical and pedagogical techniques in Israel. In his early career he was awarded a number of prestigious prizes for composition.
His first experience as a Cantor was in 1995 when he performed at the oldest Jewish Community in Argentina in the town of Basavilbaso. Norman has also conducted services and sung in synagogues in Las Vegas and Miami. In 2003, after many years serving as a Cantor in his country and in order to develop his career, he decided to move to the Netherlands as full time Cantor at the Liberaal Joodse Gemeente in Amsterdam, a position he held until July 2005.
In 2005, Norman was appointed full-time Cantor at Belsize Square Synagogue, London with special responsibilities for B’nei Mitzvah. With the children of the Cheder he has produced and recorded 2 CD’s of contemporary Israeli songs. He has also played a major part in completing a project, under the directorship of Henry Kuttner, in reproducing in manuscript form all the Synagogue’s musical repertoire onto computer in order to preserve its heritage for future generations.
Besides his interest in liturgical music Norman is the leader of the Kerensya ensemble, which performs Ladino and Tango music, honoring both his Sephardic and Argentine roots. He is a member and tutor at the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy.
Michael began his musical career at the age of 16 as a trumpeter in the Grenadier Guards. He went on to study the piano at the Royal College of Music where he was awarded several prizes for conducting, composing and improvisation. He won a scholarship enabling him to continue his studies at the RCM as Repetiteur for the London Schools Opera whilst also becoming the first recipient of the Millennium Organ Scholarship at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.
Michael is in demand as a choral conductor, accompanist and organist. He has performed at the Wigmore Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Albert Hall and in cathedrals all over the country. In the course of his career he has toured extensively to the United States of America, the Far East and Europe.
Michael gave his debut recital as an organ recitalist in Westminster Abbey and has given recitals in many cathedrals and parish churches in the UK. He has made several broadcasts for BBC radio including a live broadcast for BBC World Service. Michael is Director of Music at St. John’s Wood Church in London where he conducts the Church’s critically acclaimed professional choir. He is also the the Musical Director of the Chiltern Choir. Michael’s choral compositions are published by Redemptorist Publications. He recently accompanied the Zemel Choir on their CD, Celebrate with Song. He has been the resident Organist at Belsize Square Synagogue since 2004.
Winner of the prestigious Pierre Fournier Award at the Wigmore Hall in 2007, by unanimous vote of the distinguished jury, Gemma made her concerto debut at age 16, when she won First Prize in the European Music for Youth Competition in Oslo, Norway, playing a televised performance with the Norwegian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Other successes include Kirckman and Making Music Awards, First Prize in the Royal Over-Seas League String Competition and the Premier Prix Maurice Ravel in France. She is supported by the Countess of Munster Recital Scheme, and is a Tillett Trust Young Artist.
Gemma has recently completed her studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she has been awarded the coveted Gold Medal. She had previously graduated with First Class Honours at the Royal Academy of Music as a pupil of David Strange, where she won the Vice-Principal’s Special Prize. She has also studied with Johannes Goritzki, Gary Hoffman, Bernard Greenhouse and Zara Nelsova.
Described by The Strad on her 2003 Wigmore Hall Debut as “a mesmerising musical treasure”, by the London Evening Standard in 2005 as “a phenomenal talent”, and featured in the BBC Music Magazine as “one to watch” in 2007, Gemma has made her solo debut in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and in the Diligentia, The Hague in the New Masters International Recital Series. She plays regularly at festivals, and has performed with eminent musicians such as Stephen Kovacevich, Gyorgy Pauk and Menachem Pressler. Gemma has recently returned from Kenya, where she performed with the Nairobi Symphony Orchestra, and whilst there she gave several highly successful Public Masterclasses. Gemma has a deep interest in contemporary music, and works, including two concertos, have been written for her by David Matthews, Cecilia McDowall, James Francis Brown, Rhian Samuel, Chris Ball, Benjamin Wolf, Julian Dawes and Michael Kamen. Gemma has just made a CD of the works of Rhian Samuel, and is currently recording a CD of the compositions of James Francis Brown.
Gemma gave the highly successful 2008 Jacqueline du Pré Memorial Concert in March at Wigmore Hall, together with Leoš Čepický and Michael Dussek, with whom she will be appearing at the Belfast Festival this November, a concert to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3. She has been invited to give the 2009 Jacqueline du Pré Memorial Concert at Wigmore Hall together with the Wihan Quartet. This year, she will also be giving a series of recitals in Belgium, France, Sweden, Mexico and Japan, and in April 2009, a Wigmore Hall Sunday Morning Coffee Concert with pianist Ashley Wass. Gemma is also organising a Recital Series for the English Speaking Union to take place next year.
BELSIZE SQUARE SYNAGOGUE CHOIR
It was early 1939 and Jewish Refugees were concentrated in the Swiss-Cottage/Finchley Road area. A few got together to form the nucleus of a Community and with the help of the Hon. Lily Montagu and St.John’s Wood Liberal Synagogue we were able to hold our first Friday evening Service in the Montefiore Hall on Friday 24th March 1939.
In the weeks preceding this Service, Oberkantor Magnus Davidsohn, who became our first Chazan/Cantor, managed to gather together a group of professional singers – mostly famous stars of Opera from Berlin and Vienna, all of whom sang without a fee. Magnus Davidsohn had sung with them all on the continent. He also ‘found’ for us the brilliant musician Melitta Heim (a retired Opera singer) who accompanied us on the organ until 1950. She was followed by Paul Lichtenstern and later on by David Lawrence, both of whom brought a wealth of talent and knowledge to their playing. Since then we have had a series of exceptional organists to this day. The scores from which we sang had been miraculously saved from the burning Synagogue at Fasanenstrasse Synagogue on Kristallnacht by Magnus Davidsohn who brought them here.
The sound produced by the 1939 choir was outstanding and a hard act to follow but over the 70 years since then, we have continued to be privileged with a choir of very high standard. In all 10 choirmasters have led this choir up to our present Choirmaster, Ben Wolf and after Magnus Davidsohn have come four more Cantors.
Though the choir’s repertoire has been based on the 19th Century music of Salomon Sulzer and Louis Lewandowski, every Cantor in his turn has introduced other music to us which has gradually increased our musical options.
It would be impossible to name all the singers who have sung with us over the years, but the following certainly deserve a mention: Mrs.Alexander, (a breathtaking alto), Franzi Goodman, Mrs. Rosenthal, Hanni Lichtenstern and Sue Heimann, the latter both with stunning soprano voices, Dr.Hans Kuttner, Eric Goodman, Mr.Glaser, Ernst Frank, Walter French and Juanita Wise.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the choir over the years has been the intense loyalty shown by several non-Jewish singers who fell in love with our music and stayed.
We have been blessed indeed with such loyalty and may I say my own thanks to them here.
THE WALLACE ENSEMBLE
The Wallace Ensemble was founded in 2001 by Benjamin Wolf, Andrew Morley and Hazel Cropper while they were conducting students at Trinity College of Music. Although it usually performs as a chamber orchestra, it has also given concerts of both symphonic and chamber music. Highlights of the past few years have included Jewish music concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, the inaugural Wallace Ensemble Composition Competition, schools concerts and its own concert series at Marylebone Parish Church and St James’ Church, Piccadilly and concerts for the Mill Hill Music Society at the Arts Depot in Finchley. In 2007, it recorded its first CD of string music, produced by Opera Omnia
Rabbi Rodney & Sue Mariner
Recording and Engineering:
Tom Watson & Will Watson
Belsize Square Synagogue 2009
Belsize Square Synagogue 2009
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