Richard Locker: Jewish Cello Masterpieces (Leggiero)
TOP 10 CD'S OF 2003
THE NEW YORK JEWISH WEEK
Why the sudden spate of great Jewish cello recordings? Go know. But this is powerful, dark and brooding music, superbly played by Locker. He draws from some obvious sources Ernst Bloch, Ravel, Bruch, but also plays music by Zavel Zilberts, David Meyerowitz and Jacob Wasilovsky to great effect. AAAAA
George Robinson, The Jewish Week 5/30/03
NOMINEE BEST CLASSICAL CD OF 2004
Just Plain Folks Music Awards
"On the CD Jewish Cello Masterpieces.........the cello piece is so beautiful and so dramatic that If God were to cry, the sound of the tears hitting the Earth would sound like Kol Nidre."
Gordon Freireich, York Sunday News 5/23/04
From "ALL ABOUT JAZZ" May 6, 2003
Jewish Cello Masterpieces
Richard Locker, Leggiero Records
The cello has an incredible range of emotional expression, with high notes that can thrill and a deep resonance capable of reaching into your gut and grabbing your attention. Given this, New York City cellist Richard Locker's Jewish Cello Masterpieces is a special delight. A mix of "classical" pieces and "popular" melodies, the recording is foremost a soaring tribute to spiritually influenced music from several disparate quarters.
With literally thousands of sessions to his credit, Locker has played jazz, pop and classical with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Elvis Costello, and Pinchas Zuckerman. On his debut as a leader he uses the cello's unmatched sonority to present fresh interpretations of pieces that straddle the 19th and 20th centuries. Repertoire staples like Bloch's "Schelomo," Bruch's "Kol Nidre," and Ravel's "Kaddisch" appear here, in addition to pleasurable forays into Yiddish popular song. Their consistently straightforward cello/piano duet format unites the CD into a singular work.
On "Schelomo," a tribute to Solomon, near perfect interplay with Susan Walters' piano tells a story with grand emotional peaks and valleys. Locker's bowing repeatedly increases the tension to a near fever pitch as Walters provides emotional release. "Kol Nidre" has a solemnity and rich tone that serve to preserve and even enhance the piece's spirituality. As the pace quickens and the mood changes, the duo coaxes surprising, almost improvisational, presentations of the well-known melody.
Six songs, four composed by the under-recorded Zavel Zilberts, follow the initial classical pieces. Zilberts, a cantor/composer and violinist from the early part of the 20th century, is shown to be a master of melody. The quick tempo of the playful klezmeresque "Reb Dovidl," solemn liturgically inspired "V'shom'ru," and popular-sounding "Hameros Halolu" and "Havdolo" are most noteworthy for the attention to song and style. The CD closes with the pathos of "Gelt," a Yiddish Theater gem. Locker and Walters are classical players who are not afraid to take chances with a line or phrase. They make Jewish Cello Masterpieces a work that should be sought after by both musicians and listeners who enjoy a mix of cantorial or klezmer themes with their favorite genre.
Elliott Simon All About Jazz May 6, 2003
From THE PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE, April 27, 2003
On the cello disc, Richard Locker is accompanied by pianist Susan Walters in four works by Ernest Bloch, Max Bruch's "Kol Nidre," Maurice Ravel's "Kaddish" and some lesser-known song transcriptions of Jewish origin.
The cello disc is a real gem. The Bloch pieces, performed with strength and conviction, are the meat of this recital, each one a pillar of 20th-century cello repertory. Locker's lean but warm tone and sensitive phrasing bring Bruch's sentimentalized setting of the "Kol Nidre" to life in a meaningful way, and the songs -- lesser in substance -- round out a consistently appealing program.
Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post Gazette
From Fanfare Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011
Here is a disc full of warm, passionate playing by cellist Richard Locker and exciting, if stiffly phrased, playing by pianist Susan Walters. The Bloch, Bruch, and Ravel works are familiar staples of the cello repertoire, while the songs by Zilberts, Wasilkovsky, and Meyerowitz provide a nice selection of encores. Locker’s unusual combination of a dark, mahogany timbre with a tight, fast vibrato gives him exceptional control as well as an outstanding gift of communication; his performances of Schelomo, Kol Nidre, Kaddisch, and the excerpt from Baal Shem can hold their own with the likes of Rostropovich, Ma, Rose, Fournier, and Starker—elite company indeed. Walters plays here with emotional commitment as well. I find her phrasing note-to-note rather than continuous or flowing, but I am much taken with her playing in the Bloch Meditation Hebraique, deeply felt and very personal.
Indeed, I find that the intimacy created by this entire recital is one of its finest qualities. One interesting sidelight for those unfamiliar with Zavel Zilberts: He was an illustrious cantor who sang at the Central Synagogue in Moscow from 1907 to 1914, then emigrated to the U.S. in 1920. In addition to his cantorial positions in America, he also directed the Choral Society of New York. The liner notes claim that he was the principal voice teacher of famed tenor Richard Tucker, but in fact Tucker only sang in Zilberts’s choir, although Zilberts was instrumental in introducing Tucker to his real and best teacher, former Met tenor Paul Althouse. Zilberts’s four songs, transcribed here for cello, are generally lighthearted and charming despite their use of minor keys, as is Meyrowitz’s song Gelt (Wie Schlecht es is Ohn Gelt). Highly recommended for Locker’s highly involved, warm, and technically masterly readings. Fanfare: Lynn René Bayley
from the CD liner notes:
Many of these intense and beautiful works are well known to classical music lovers.
Max Bruch's "Kol Nidre," based on the ancient prayer melody, is heard frequently in concert and is often played in reform synagogues on Yom Kippur. Ernest Bloch's "Nigun" and "Prayer" are concert staples as is his great tone poem, "Schelomo," played here in the composer's arrangement for cello and piano. Also included is Bloch's rarely heard "Meditation Hebaique," (1925) which was dedicated to Pablo Casals.
Maurice Ravel's "Kaddisch" is the first of his "Two Hebraic Melodies," originally written for voice and piano. The songs were commissioned by the soprano Alvina-Alvi of the Imperial St. Petersburg Opera and performed by her and Ravel in 1914 at the Salle Malakoff in Paris.
Less familiar are the great songs by Zavel Zilberts (1881-1949). A child prodigy violinist and singer who had an illustrious career as cantor, composer, conductor, and teacher, Zilberts' renown was great enough that luminaries such as Rachmaninoff and Chaliapin came to hear him sing at the Central Synagogue in Moscow where he was cantor from 1907 to 1914.
Zilberts immigrated to the U.S. in 1920 where he held a number of distinguished cantorial positions. He became director of the Choral Society of New York in 1924, leading the choir and soloists such as Jan Peerce, Phillip Wakefield, Robert Merrill, and Richard Tucker (who was his vocal student for six years before he joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1945).
These songs were written between 1914 and 1931 and the transcriptions here are faithful to the original versions.
David Meyerowitz's "Gelt" (Wie schlecht es is ohn gelt) is a beautiful and amusing song written for the Yiddish Theatre. Meyerowitz (1867-1943) was a noted theatre composer and lyricist whose works were performed by stars such as Boris Thomaschevsky and Sophie Tucker.
Richard Locker is well known for his expressive and stylish performances of solo and chamber music masterworks.
The New York Times has written that he is and "a musician with a thoughtful temperament who expresses most of the substance beneath the notes." and "an exceptionally clean player with an incisive interpretive style."
The New York Post commented on his "...great intensity and beauty of tone," and The Pittsburgh Post Gazette called him "...a true young master...who gives thoughtful, mature interpretations without excess or self indulgence."
When he is not touring Richard Locker is one of New York's top musicians and has performed in over 4000 recording sessions. Earlier in his career he served as principal cellist and soloist with the Mostly Mozart Festival of Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet, Orchestra of St. Luke's, and countless other ensembles in concert and/or on recordings.
Formerly cello teacher at Princeton University he now teaches privately in New York. Mr. Locker plays on an exceptionally fine cello by Nicolo Gagliano of Naples, dated 1780.