Milken Archive
Naxos CD 8.559405

Many of our readers will be familiar with the Naxos/ Milken archive edition and the immense generosity provided by the Milken foundation for preserving American Jewish music.
Nevertheless this reviewer has an immense problem with the series, especially in the vocal field. More often than not vocal performances are plainly mediocre, amateurish and annoying.
Either you get the best of singers capable of doing fully justice to this music or you better re-issue the vast amount of legendary recordings lying to be discovered in the Yivo institute. A far less costly affair as well I gather. Yet I’m still waiting for the “rare historic reference recordings” referred to by artistic director Neil Levin in the accompanying booklet.
This volume –again is so typical- of the Milken’s archive vocal casting. The music of Secunda, Olshanetsky and Ellstein deserve better. Just listen to the Cd and compare with Richard Tucker’s Goldfaden tribute which desperately needs to be put on CD (LP CBS) or Jan Peerce’s  2nd Avenue record (Vanguard). And there are so many others: Sidor Belarsky anyone? Mascha Benya? Jenny Goldstein? Isa Kremer? Leon Lishner? Louis Danto? Or those legendary ‘Greater Recordings’ records with their “Masterworks of the Yiddish Theatre” LP releases? What about that wonderful Tikva records LP with William Royal singing music of the Jewish theatre? The magnificent Marina Gordon? All these singers brought a classical approach to this music, something which this music deserves because many compositions are on par with the best of operetta music and have more than just memorable tunes.
Why doesn’t the Milken archive hire Neil Shicoff or that upcoming Canadian tenor  Joseph Kaiser? Just to name but two.
So often in the series we get a lot of geschrei, gekvech in a most exaggerated manner, jazzy arrangements (oh, how I hate those), damn they even have to include drums (oh, how I hate them even more)!
Not all singers on this CD are bad. Amy Goldstein at least keeps up a certain standard with some beautiful phrasing, a nice morbidezza and interpretation and veteran Robert Abelson still has a lot left in his vocal armour. Benzion Miller –once of the most promising cantor talents ever- now sadly enough displays a wobble and a worn out voice with only some impressive coloratura left in ‘Dos Yiddishe Lied’.
As said before I utterly dislike most of the arrangements which have the intention of modernizing it all by giving the songs a jazz flavour, some klezmer and swing rythms and utterly ignoring its original tradition of operetta and the best of broadway. Because in my opinion that’s how this music has to be performed.

Rudi van den Bulck, Opera nostalgia