Series Review: Milken Archive of American Jewish Music
by Matt Temkin
I have come not to bury the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music but to praise it. This collection which is in the early phases of commercial release on Naxos American Classics presents a large cross section of the Jewish musical experience of the first 350 years of the American Jewish experience. These for the most part all brand new recordings are crystal clear and sonically perfect. The question is does the home listener need to invest in the entire set, or can enjoyment and enlightenment be gained by the purchase of individual titles. [If you are a public library or institute of higher learning these recordings will be a wonderful addition to your collection, and the question of purchase is not a question but an answer.]
Many of the materials on these recordings are of obscure materials. So, is the buying of a full set of these recordings a good use of your Jewish cultural dollar? At a list price of 50% of the average compact disc these recordings are of great value. But, I personally feel that the average Jewish household will not benefit from a whole set. What I do feel is that the average household will benefit from them by picking a choosing a select group of them to expand their recorded music collection, and use other parts of their Jewish cultural dollar to go experience live performances of Jewish music if possible in their community.
There are some problems with this set of recordings, the first 10 of which have been released as of this writing, that will make it difficult for the average listener. The mostly-wonderful liner notes have some design issues in their design that make their use challenging. Of those discs that I sampled, "Introducing the World of American Jewish Music" (Naxos 8.559406) has the easiest-to-use notes: the selection descriptions and text translation can be found in the same spot, rather than in different sections. I don't mind that the composers and performers biographies were placed in their own section, but having the program notes on different pages from the translations is something I don't like. (This is a format that is ok for me on the back of LP jackets where the entire set of notes is accessible at a glance, but doesn't work when transferred to CDs where the reader has to flip pages.)
As for suggestions as to what titles people should add to their collection, I think it depends on their individual musical tastes. We are fast approaching the Hanukka time of year, and "A Hanukka Celebration" (Naxos 8.559410) is a choral and orchestral take on Hanukka favorites with some new tunes tossed in for good. "Leonard Bernstein: A Jewish Legacy" (Naxos 8.559407) and "Joseph Achron: Violin Concerto/Golem Suite" (Naxos 8.559408) are also quite good giving us rarely heard Jewish works of two of two great 20th century tonal composers. The big picture shows this project to be a wonderful thing, and as the composer Michael Isaacson said at the Milken American Jewish Music Conference in New York this project if used properly has the opportunity to leave a wonderfully legacy for generations to come. It is up to us, the fans of Jewish Music to make sure that this music gets listened to and doesn't just spend time collecting dust of a shelf.
To get a complete listing of the currently available titles, and those that will be available in the near future my suggestion is to go to Amazon.com and search classical music for Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.
by Matt Temkin, 29 Nov 2003.