When hearing the Yiddish language, most people picture Hasidic rabbis with long beards and black hats davening at Mincha services, or women with babushkas and heavy stockings kneading dough for the Shabbat challah. “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” celebrates this part of Jewish culture with songs from vaudeville, Yiddish radio, and Second Avenue, also known as the Yiddish Stage.
The seventeen Yiddish songs in this collection address traditional Jewish themes: Life in the shtetl, immigration to America, marriage, and love. While some of the songs are secular, Jewish ideals are prevalent throughout the collection.
Although the songs are sung entirely in Yiddish, the emotional vocals make the album easy to understand. The melodies are catchy and easy to pick up and, in general, the vocalists' Yiddish accents are exceptional.
The only soloist who does not shine is soprano Amy Goldstein. Her words border on incomprehensible, her Yiddish accent is non-existent, and her voice is unnecessarily operatic. Unfortunately, Goldstein's voice is the only female part heard throughout the CD with the exception of Joanne Borts in "Lebn zol kolumbus."
Still, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and the other soloists more than make up for Goldstein's part in the album. Bruce Adler, one of the tenors, is especially animated in his songs, and almost all of the pieces will have the listener tapping their foot and wanting to folk-dance around the house.
"Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn" is more than 68 minutes long and is part of the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. Accompanying the album is a descriptive booklet on the composers, the history of the Yiddish stage, and English translations of the songs. The Milken Archive contains a collection of American Jewish music that represents both Jewish and secular contributions of great Jewish artists. We will be reviewing more from this collection in the coming weeks.