Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul is the sound of Itzhak Perlman having it both ways. Being one of the most famous violin virtuosos of our time, Perlman is forever tethered to the classical chamber works he’s interpreted over the years. For instance, his recording of Brahms’s “Violin Concerto in D Major” is still considered the go-to version if you were to own only one recording of the piece. At the same time, Perlman has continually answered the call of his heritage by recording all things Yiddish, Hasidic, and klezmer, John Williams’s score for Schindler’s List being an example of Jewish themes distilled for Oscar cinema. Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul is an attempt at an overlap between the styles, albeit not a strict one. What it does offer is Jewish cantorial music with a classical chamber twist. Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot sings a variety of religious texts including folk and prayer themes. Perlman plays the lead alongside him while backed by the Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra under the direction of Hankus Netsky. It’s all a natural fit. Hand in glove, peanut butter with jelly, bread with butter. Not to mix together too many food metaphors, Perlman proves that having your cake and eating it needs not to be an extravagant gesture.
The program starts with “A Dudele” by Levi Yitzchak Berditchever, a lengthy track (though not the longest) that takes you on a miniature journey from liturgy to hard-driving klezmer. Yitchak Meir Helfgot’s performance begins with dramatic rubato supported by the band’s rapid bowing. The last minute and forty seconds of the song kicks into high gear as fiddles dance and trombones glissando through the stately flatted seconds. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself on top of a chair, held high by friends and family at your wedding. The longest track is actually “Sheyibone Bays Hamikdosh” by Israel Schorr, a piece that sprawls as it crawls while Yitchak Meir Helfgot returns to the minor three note melody again and again. Apart from “A Dudele”‘s outro and “Dem Trisker Rebns Khosid”, which acts as an instrumental interlude between “R’tzay” and “Sheyibone Bays Hamikdosh”, Eternal Echoes is an affair of sluggish tempos, a cover sheet for reflective interpretations.
Using the internet as a public gauge of reaction, Yitchak Meir Helfgot is getting a mixed reception here. One fan will complain that he’s too loud in the mix while others think he’s holding back too much. One reviewer went so far as to say that his voice is an acquired taste, something that just doesn’t ring true for yours truly. Music is subjective, yes, but this is one affable tenor tone that should disuade no one. And of course, the tempo gets in the way for other spectators. These traditional songs, “traditional” being the operative word here, had their standard set long ago. If you were to sit through an uncharacteristically slow rendition of the first movement of Brahms’s “Violin Concerto in D Major”, you would be scratching an itch you couldn’t reach either. And so with that, Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul comes recommended with a caveat linked to the Hasidic arts of old. At the end of the day, its sturdy combination of two talents should prevail. Sometimes you just have to travel in the slow lane.