Klezmer Shpil. with Arkady Goldenshtein, clarinet. Emil Kroiter, accordion, composer-arranger. Israel: OR-TAV Music Publications/Klezmerhouse, 2007. compact disc.

Reviewed by Jardena Gertler-Jaffe

Klezmer Shpil_ImageKlezmer Shpil is a collaboration between clarinetist Arkady Goldenshtein and accordionist Emil Kroitor. Its sixteen tracks were composed and arranged by Kroitor and performed by an ensemble brought together specifically for this album, which was released by OR-TAV Music Publications in 2007. Every track prominently features Kroitor and Goldenshtein, as well as violinist Isaac Kurtz, together playing impressive contrapuntal and ornamented lines. As an ethnomusicologist and klezmer enthusiast, I am intrigued by new klezmer music and the debates that surround it. With regard to this recording, my challenge is to appreciate its musical accomplishments while remaining critical of its presentation of an uncomplicated view of the lineage and heritage of klezmer.

Arkady Goldenshtein, the featured musician on this album, is the nephew of noted Bessarabian clarinetist and composer, German Goldenshtein. According to an interview conducted at KlezKanada in 2008, Goldenshtein was inspired to play in the klezmer style from hearing his uncle’s virtuosic playing—a style and craft evidently inherited and honed.[1] Kroitor and Goldenshtein both grew up in Moldova before immigrating to Israel in the 1990s, where they are active participants in the growing klezmer scene.

The album begins with “Doina Romanza,” a nod to their musical upbringing. A doina is a Moldavian improvisational genre, and the album liner notes quote Kroitor and Goldenshtein saying that they have been “steeped in the Moldavian tradition since childhood.” This lyrical Doina, like many other tracks on the album, allows us to hear the extent of Goldenshtein’s fluency in Klezmer-style playing. His melodies are ornamented beautifully with idiomatic krekhts (wails) and kneytsch (sobs), giving us the sounds of melancholic yearning that are hallmarks of the genre.[2] This is exemplified in “Wedding Melody,” which features Goldenshtein’s playing at its most heart-wrenching.

The album continues with fifteen additional original tracks composed and arranged by Emil Kroitor. Slower numbers are grouped at the beginning, though these are followed by increasingly up-tempo pieces, and the album ends with two extremely spirited numbers (“Polka” and “Jok”). With the possible exception of the “Doina Romanza,” which is more improvisational and contains a significant amount of rubato that makes it more challenging to follow, the entire album is suitable for dancing. A variety of klezmer dance forms are represented, including the sher in “Lovely Sher,” and bulgar in “Chassidic Dance,” as well as other dances such as the polka and waltz.

It is interesting to note the type of self-fashioning that Kroitor and Goldenshtein engage in with respect to the discourses of authenticity surrounding klezmer. In the liner notes, they first present an abridged history of the genre, within which they point to their musical accomplishments and training in “the Old Country.”[3] They go on to describe their music as “bring[ing] us back to the roots of Klezmer,” and as “true folklore in a modern setting.”[4] This positioning encourages the listener to regard the album as an uncomplicated example of authentic klezmer, though many scholars would understand this as a potentially more complex interchange. This conversation—involving issues such as lineage, exoticization, and nostalgia—is too extensive to fully explore in a review of this nature. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note the ways in which Kroitor and Goldenshtein both accept and reject some common notions of authenticity in klezmer and European folk music. Allusions to the field recordings of Bartok and to the rebirth of klezmer in recent times portray their music as part of an uninterrupted line from the klezmorim of the “Old World,” bypassing any mention of the klezmer revival and its associated innovation. As such, they disengage with the scholarly discourse questioning markers of “authenticity” explored extensively in academic works, instead favouring a simplified understanding of the roots of the genre. However, while they stake their claim on authentic klezmer to this connection to the “Old World,” much of their playing style aligns more with the artistry and aesthetics of the klezmer revival.

Notions of authenticity are further complicated by the use of synthesized keyboard and midi tracks on the album. One cannot ignore the presence of electronic sound production on an album that purports to take us back to the “Old World” roots of klezmer, which would more commonly be associated with acoustic instruments. While I personally think that definitions of “authenticity” in klezmer should be expanded, I was interested to see them describe an album full of synthetic instruments as “true folklore,” since this is not typically the kind of sound world one expects to hear when thinking of “authentic Old World Klezmer.”  The use of the midi tracks risks robbing the performers of the type of flexibility that playing with live musicians can allow, at times seeming to clash with the mature timbre developed by the three lead instrumentalists. It would be interesting to hear the rationale for using midi tracks on some songs, especially given that have live musicians provide the rhythm section of the ensemble on other tracks.

Notwithstanding any quibbles about production choices, this album by Goldenshtein and Kroitor is a significant contribution to the klezmer repertoire. Kroitor’s original melodies are lively, stimulating, and stick in your head. The album stands out in a genre where laying down sixteen tracks of original composition is atypical. I look forward to hearing more from these players, especially in a live performance context.

[1] Richard Kurtz, “Arkady Goldenshtein,” Klez News, August 21, 2008, 3. Accessed July 25, 2018. http://klezkanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/kk20060821.pdf.

[2] Hankus Netsky, “American Klezmer: A Brief History,” in American Klezmer: Its Roots and Offshoots, ed. Mark Slobin (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2002), 14.

[3] Liner Notes, Klezmer Shpil with Arkady Goldenshtein.

[4] Ibid.


Jardena Gerlter-Jaffe, University of Toronto