Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble / Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration

Album cover: Interesting idea that somehow doesn't work. The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble
Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration
, 2006
Lori Cahan-Simon LCS 003

Album available via cdbaby.com

The title says it all. Chanukah Is Freylekh is full of songs I've never heard. Beyond my musical ignorance, though, these songs are set in a true Klezmer style, which brings a wealth of emotion and authenticity that you can't get with the "traditional" Hebrew Chanukah repertoire.

Lori Cahan-Simon has researched the songs presented here and provides a wealth of information along with outstanding performances and arrangements. The ensemble performance is spot-on and contributes a richness to the album that is a perfect complement to Cahan-Simon's vocals. The ensemble gets plenty of time between song verses to showcase their considerable talent with a perfect interpretation of this eastern-European Klezmer material.

While I like the melodies and lyrics of these songs, one stands out for me. Take a look at the English lyrics for "Borekh Ate—Blessed Art Thou:"

"Blessed art Thou," sings father
And he lights the candles.
And their light falls softly
On his pale countenance.
And a fire, holy and dear
Shines in his eyes.
And his weary limbs stand
Tall and strong.
And it seems and it appears:
There is still something here.
Something has remained to love,
Holy is this hour.
Old sounds long gone …
No, I hear them still.
Sing for me, Father, "Blessed art Thou"
And I remain your child.

This is clearly not a children's Chanukah song, but speaks of the sacred moment of "Father" lighting the candles and singing the blessings.

One familiar song is "Ver Ken Dertseyln," the Hebrew "Mi Yimalel." This song gets the full Klezmer treatment, with a lovely Doina introduction, and the newly composed "Katshke's Khanike Freylekhs" by Adrienne Greenbaum to complement the Yiddish lyrics. I enjoy this combination of old and new material very much. It gives this album a uniqueness that never becomes tiring.

Two songs that I find fascinating are "Di Khanike Likht" and "O, Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh." Both have the same lyrics, but are set to different Russian melodies. The former is a a two-part slow/fast Russian café song, while the latter is a lovely Russian waltz. I like them both, and find the contrast to be a highlight of the album. It reminds me that many of our Jewish liturgical songs have several melodies for the same lyrics. It appears that the same applies to Yiddish song as well.

One last song I must mention is the slow waltz "Akht Likhtelekh," a delicate piece featuring a flute/guitar duet backing Cahan-Simon's lovely vocal. The song is about the Chanukah candles, but sounds more like a love song. But don't we all love our Chaukah candles?

The album sounds amazing. The mix is done right, with every instrument clear and distinct, without a lot of the annoying reverb on the vocal that seems commonplace today. A simple and pure sound that doesn't get in the way of the music, thanks to Henry Shapiro (who also appears on the album).

The included 28-page booklet is a mini-compendium of Yiddish song. Cahan-Simon provides an introduction, extensive notes and translations of the songs, as well as detailed descriptions of the many dances that accompany the music. A lot of effort went into compiling this material, and it is a great supplement to the music.

Cahan-Simon states: "My mission is to encourage the revitalization and renewal of Yiddish in American Jewish life, educating through the arts and introducing Yiddish to a new generation through enjoyable activities such as song, story, dance, games, theater, and cooking; and to disseminate the material, instilling a love for the culture in young children, families, and the larger community."

She plans to release a dozen more albums in the series, and I hope she reaches her goal. The Yiddish revival seems to be in high gear and the Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble is in a perfect place to spread the joy. I highly recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in keeping the Yiddish language alive.

Reviewed by Keith Wolzinger, 5/14/08

Personnel this recording:
Lori Cahan-Simon: vocals
Walt Mahovlich: accordion, vocal
David Chernyavsky: violin, bass, vocal
Adrianne Greenbaum: flute, piccolo, viola, piano, vocal
Alexander Fedoriouk: cimbalom, poyk, snare
Henry Shapiro: bass, guitar, handclaps, vocal

IL Peretz school chorus:
Matthew Greminger
Jeanne Greminger
Cameron Godfrey
Zoe Herzenstein


Follow links to listen to songs, courtesy of CD Baby

  1. Khanike iz freylekh/ Chanukah is Happy 1:43
  2. Tsindt on likhtlekh /Khanike-marsh (Tsindt on di likhtlekh) Ligh 2:56
  3. Kinder haynt iz khanike / Mir zenen khanike likhtlekh / Naftule, shpil es nokh a mol 4:25
  4. Borekh ate—Blessed art Thou 3:23
  5. Di khanike likht—The Chanukah Candles 3:05
  6. Drey zikh, dreydele—Spin, Little Dreydl 2:57
  7. Ver ken dertseyln (Mi Yimalel)/ Katshkes khanike freylekhs—Who Can Retell/Katshke's Chanukah Freylekhs 5:13
  8. O, ir kleyne likhtelekh—Oh, You Little Candles 3:49
  9. A lid fun khanike—A Song of Chanukah 6:00
  10. Ven kh’tsindt di likhtlekh on, di akht—When I Light the Eight 3:04
  11. Zogt nor, zogt / Ikh bin a latke / Ikh hob a kleyn dreydl (Dos dreydl) 2:40
  12. Sheoso nisim—He Who Performed Miracles 2:50
  13. Ikh bin a kleyner dreydl—I’m a Little Dreydl / Sirba in C 2:19
  14. Akht Likhtlekh—Eight Little Candles 3:00
  15. Di khanike teg akht—The Eight Days of Chanukah 3:52
  16. Al hanisim—For the Miracles 4:43
  17. Oy khanike, oy khanike—Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah 3:40

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