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Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: A Hanukka Celebration Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Naxos, (2003), $6.98

by Mitchell Bard

As a Jew, I hate to admit it, but I like Christmas music. While there is plenty of good Jewish music around, there’s really not much like the holiday albums that are produced every Christmas. I’m not sure if they’ll appreciate the comparison, but a new CD from the Milken Archive, A Chanukkah Celebration, finally captures some of that holiday spirit for my tradition. The disc contains 22 tracks and 73 minutes of music, which is a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar, secular and sacred, vocal and instrumental. Whatever one may think of the individual works, the entire disc sounds crisp and clear and was masterfully recorded by Naxos.

The disc begins with candelelighting prayers for Hanukka sung beautifully by Cantor Simon Spiro and ends with four pieces – Aspects of a Great Miracle – by Michael Isaacson, which reminded me of Broadway show tunes. I loved the first one, Light the Legend, but found the following piece, A Hanukkah Dreidl, downright annoying. Some of the vocal pieces, such as A. Olshanetsky’s Adonai Z’kharanu, sung by the New London Children’s Choir, reminded me of the type of Christian music you associate with groups such as the Vienna Boys Choir. Samuel Adler’s suite, The Flames of Freedom, included instrumental versions of many familiar tunes, such as Ma’oz Tzur, which sounded much like Boston Pops versions of holiday classics.

In addition to instrumentals and songs in Hebrew and English, the disk also contains Yiddish tunes, which are no doubt less familiar to most listeners.

The CD comes with a phenomenal booklet that discusses the history of Hanukka, the composers, and the individual pieces. It also includes the lyrics of the songs. Information is also available at the Milken Archive web site.

All in all, A Chanukkah Celebration is a valuable and enjoyable disc that will bring holiday cheer to Jews who are accustomed to being inundated by the sounds of Christmas.

The Milken Archive is producing an astounding collection of American Jewish music – sacred and secular – with the collaboration of distinguished artists, ensembles and recording producers. We will be reviewing more of the collection in coming weeks.