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Lenka Lichtenberg, "Breathing Walls," new CD review for the Ashkenaz Fest

Note: Lenka and Yair Dalal actually premiered their new children's CD, Lullabies from Exile at this year's Ashkenaz. Review of that recording, pending.

CD coverCzeck-born Lenka Lichtenberg has been exploring Jewish, Israeli, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern music since before I met her back at one of the first Ashkenaz Festivals. Her voice is exquisite. The recordings keep getting better. Her imagination is even bigger. At the same time, with musical interests around the world, she has remained uncategorizable. That's probably a good thing. This latest recording, Breathing Walls is an excellent example, and an exquisite take on Jewish sacred music.

Breathing Walls came about after a concert series back in her native Czech Republic. After listening to the sound of performing in synagogues in Plzen and Liberec in 2009, she returned a year later to record Jewish liturgical poems in twelve synagogues. The melodies range from traditional Eastern European, to newer settings by contemporary composers such as Shlomo Carlebach and Shirona. Working with musicians as diverse as Israeli's Yair Dalal ("Maoz Tsur" and "Adon Olam," for instance) and klezmer clarinetist Christian Dawid ("Esa Eyney"), and an array of musicians from around the world, Lichtenberg fuses all of these influences and melodies into a new, tender world Jewish music.

This is a very special recording. Unlike her earlier CDs, where she focuses on Jewish folk music, often re-imagined with Middle-Eastern-sounding settings (partly influenced, I imagine, by the side of her family that hails from Iraq, and partly influenced by her friendship and musical partnership with Iraqi-Israeli musician Yair Dalal), these are sacred tunes. Again, they are often re-imagined and reset, but the result, with a beautiful accompanying CD case and booklet, is an explicitly spiritual journey. Our blessing is that she has chosen to record these pieces and present them. You can get your copy of "Breathing Walls" directly from Lichtenberg's website.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, sitting in the delicious sunshine of the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, ahead of a performance by the artist later this afternoon, 1 Sep 2014.