Europäisches Zentrum für Jüdische Musik(3 CD’s)   Eur 25

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Israel Alter (1901 - 1979 ) was one of many the great virtuoso cantors of his generation and one of the most erudite exponents of artistic hazzanut on a classical level. Born in Lemberg (then in Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; now L’viv, in Ukraine), Israel Alter was the son of the merchant Abraham Judah Alter and his wife Frieda Alter, born Klein. He had a brother who later also became cantor.

Israel Alter studied Talmud in Lemberg and Vienna. In Vienna he studied voice for five years with the famous voice professor and baritone Stefan Pollmann. Pollmann emigrated from Vienna to London. Other well-known students of Pollmann were Alexander Young, Ian Partridge and Murray and William Dickie.

At the age of 20 Alter received his first posting as a cantor at the Vereinssynagoge Brigittenauer Tempel where he succeeded the legendary Josef Basser (1871-1938). He served as hazzan in Vienna for a number of years and in June 1925 Alter accepted an appointment as Oberkantor of the principal orthodox synagogue in Hannover.

(Brigittenauertempel) (Synagogue in Hannover)

When the National Socialists came to power Israel Alter emigrated to South Africa in 1935. He became cantor of the largest synagogue of Johannesburg : the synagogue of the United Hebrew Congregation.

In 1961, Alter moved to the USA where he worked as a cantor in New York. He also taught at the newly established School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College

Alter2 (Cover of the fist LP release of some of his recordings)

Among the legacy of Israel Alter was a scrap book containing a collection of newspaper clips of concert reviews in several languages. Also found were recordings of great historical importance of Alter's singing and compositions. 40 records from as early as 1930 were found. Alter's daughter, who lived in Tel Aviv, inherited the records in 1979. The records subsequently became the property of Alter's nephew, cantor Benjamin Maissner, who works as cantor in Toronto. At first the thought was to donate the records to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, however Maissner decided to give them to Prof. Andor Izsák, director of the European Centre for Jewish Music in Hannover. Thus the records found the home where they originated. And how right Cantor Maissner was in doing so!

At least three LP releases were issued one by the Parlophone company in London and three by Musique International in Chicago but these are now quasi impossible to find. (click here for more info on them) Therefore all praise to Cantor Maissner and the European Centre for Jewish Music in Hannover as the recorded legacy of Israel Alter for the Lindstrom company has been preserved on 3 CD’s and becomes once again available for the greater public to enjoy.

The first CD features his liturgical music with Leo Kopf conducting ‘his’ chorus and Paul Mania at the organ. The second CD contains the remainder of the liturgical repertoire but also three Hebrew songs and 5 Yiddish songs, the famous Eli, Eli amongst them. The third CD is of course the most interesting to readers of this webzine as it contains opera arias (Africaine, Fedora, Fanciulla), Haendel’s Dank sei dir Herr, three Liszt songs (with orchestra!) and Rubinstein’s Der Asra.

A bonus is the extra track containing a 9 minutes interview in English with Alter in which he speaks about his life and the recordings. In the interview he mentions the fact that his teacher was in doubt whether he was a high baritone or a heldentenor. When you listen to the Cd’s you can understand why. Often when Alter sings cantorial music he sounds like a baritone yet when he sings classical repertoire a Wagnerian voice is at work. The voice sounds huge and powerful with a strong low and middle register and on occasion a constricted top reminiscent of several  German Wagnerian tenors of the time.

Get the very reasonably priced edition while it lasts.

Rudi van den Bulck, March 2016