One can easily imagine a recording artist affiliated with a label called 4Tay Records cruising down Sunset Boulevard in a neon Hummer, decked out in a throwback rainbow Denver Nuggets jersey and tossing fistfuls of cash into the camera from his bejeweled fingers.
Uh, not quite.
Instead, in the case of “The Golden Dove,” imagine a congregant of Tiburon’s Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar rendering 19 emotionally wrenching Russian Jewish folk tunes on the violin.
Zina Schiff, a former soloist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a Marin resident, is a lauded violinist, and her accompanist, Cameron Grant, is powerful yet subtle. But, caveat emptor: 19 poignant tunes make for a lot of violining (nearly 70 minutes worth, in fact). So if you’re no fan of emotionally wrought violin playing, fuhgeddaboutit.
But if you favor serious strings, “The Golden Dove” provides a wealth of unique Jewish music.
According to the CD’s informative liner notes, in the last days of the czars, a number of Russia’s top composers and intellectuals — many of them non-Jews — were disgusted by the nation’s state-sanctioned anti-Semitism. In response, they began penning their own Jewish folk tunes.
The Jewish Folk Music Society of St. Petersburg — the place to be for Russian Jewish intellectuals — published more than 80 works of music, roughly one-fourth of which Schiff has deemed “masterpieces” and performs on this album. Some of these “masterpieces” do bleed into each other, but quite a few are grand and powerful while others are lively, fast-paced and fun.
Joseph Engel’s “Freilachs,” Jacob Weinberg’s “Scherzo” and Alexander Krein’s “Dance” are rapid, mischievous and intricate numbers that showcase the musicians’ dexterity. And the gradual build to the furious finish of Solomon Rosowsky’s “Rhapsody” reminds me of the frenetic finale in the third and final movement of George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F major.
Yet despite the obvious skill of the musicians, 70 minutes makes for a long album.
I should also note that, aesthetically, 4Tay’s packaging of this CD is decidedly minimal, and the photographs of Schiff, Grant and producer Cherina Carmel (Schiff’s daughter and sometime accompanist) appear to be clipped from family snapshots.
In fact, opposite lapels of the same tall man’s brown jacket appear in Schiff and Carmel’s photos. This is Dad, one can assume. Note to 4Tay: Stop embarrassing your talented musicians and throw down $100 for a professional photo shoot.
Promotional materials for “The Golden Dove” claim the album to be “Marc Chagall set to music.” Based upon the crowds billowing through the glass doors of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, that’d sure be nice for the folks at 4Tay Records — perhaps they could afford Hummers, Denver Nuggets jerseys and decent artist photos if that were so.
When I closed my eyes and listened to this album, I did not envision Chagall-like green-skinned Chassids floating over the cities of Belarus. But for a listening public — myself included — whose knowledge of Russian Jewish music begins and ends with Tevye belting out “If I Were a Rich Man,” this album provides a glimpse into something that felt real: The souls of the persecuted but prideful Jews of old Russia.
And knowing, by and large, what became of them renders Schiff’s violin all the more mournful.
“The Golden Dove: Masterpieces from the Jewish Folk Music Society,” (4Tay records, $13.95). Information: www.classicalcds.net.