ONE of the many pleasing aspects of the Society’s concerts is the imaginative programme planning.
This is graphically illustrated by the concert on February 24 when the tongue-twisting She’Koyokh Klezmer Band paid a visit.
Klezmer music comes from eastern Europe and is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews. Often played at weddings, dances and other celebrations, it is lively, rhythmic dance music.
The five piece She’ koyokh Band features clarinet, violin, guitar, double bass and percussion. The name ‘She’koyokh’, we were told, is a Yiddish word the equivalent of a friendly pat on the back and a ‘well done’ of encouragement. It is doubtful whether many in the audience knew anything about Klezmer music though we may have heard it in such films as Fiddler On The Roof.
We were treated to vigorous examples from Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and even Greece. There were Yiddish songs and music from the Jewish wedding tradition.
The group had similarities to jazz, with a rhythm section of percussion, double bass and guitar and front line soloists of violin and clarinet with the guitar also playing a solo part.
There may have been a few in the audience who did not immediately sympathise with this style, but even they must have marvelled at the precision ensemble playing, the incredible virtuosity of the musicians, the rhythmic drive, the flying fingering and the rapid changes of tempi all coordinated into a coherent whole.
The breath control of the clarinettist was almost beyond belief, the varying styles of fiddle playing, the rapid finger work of the guitarist and the sheer, infectious enthusiasm of the whole group set the audience toe tapping, foot twitching and pulses racing.
The songs were given by the double bass player who further displayed his virtuosity with a piece for balalaika. Behind it all the percussionist kept the tempo moving. This was raw, earthy, passionate music played with verve and commitment. Many pieces were fast, accelerating to very fast as excitement mounted. Some Bulgarian music sounded much like an Irish jig.
Slower music came as a welcome contrast. A piece from the Jewish wedding tradition began with a sad melody representing the mood of a young bride as she faced a move to a strange new family miles from home. Tension was relieved with a fast cheerful waltz to lighten the gloom; a Prussian Jewish song told the odd tale of a lover wooing a girl because of the little lemons on her balcony.
The second half began with a slow/fast/slow item in the form of a Dumka - we shall meet another in Dvorak’s Sextet at the next concert.
Greece featured with a mournful fellow who intended to become a monk because nobody loved him. There was a brilliant show-off piece for the violin, a Bulgarian percussion dance, and the balalaika debate between a philosopher and a rabbi. The audience was eager to join in one of the choruses.
Finally all the musicians were introduced and the enthusiastic applause earned an encore to end a stimulating display of pulsating energy. Amplification made it a bit loud but this only added to the impact
The only possible response must be ‘She’koyokh’ - well done!