Classicalite’s 8 Best: Musical Works for Chanukah

By Brick Dozer on Nov 26, 2013 06:39 PM EST

Expecting a Classicalite's Five Best? It's Chanukah! And even though there's a shocking paucity of decent music for this particular Jewish festival, 8 is indeed the number...

1) Handel, Judas Maccabeus

Not only is this classical music's greatest telling of the Chanukah story, it's pretty much the only one of huge note. It became one of Handel's most celebrated works and one chorus, "See, the Conqu'ring Hero Comes!" became a staple 'top hit' for centuries to come. Ironically it was composed for his oratorio Joshua, but Handel decided to put it into Judas Maccabeus. Lucky for Chanukah that he did!

2) "Chanukah in Story and Song," Leonard Nimoy and Western Wind (Western Wind's own label, of course)

The classical make up of the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble gives this traditional album a nicely complex tint, and there's always been something of the classical actor about Leonard Nimoy.

3) "Liquefacta est," Yaniv d'Or & Ensemble Naya

This beautiful album has at least as much Yom Kippur about it as Chanukah, but as a traversal of Jewish music through the ages, it's broadly on subject. Ensemble Naya and Yaniv d'Or's succulent counter-tenor are soulful and evocative.

4) Jan Peerce sings Hebrew melodies (RCA)

Of the three great male American opera stars who also assumed cantorial duties from time to time--Robert Merrill, Richard Tucker and Jan Peerce--it is the last of these who is the least famous and yet the most idiomatic, and one might been say spiritual when singing in Hebrew. This old RCA LP was a classic, and YouTube has been good enough to give us his "A din toire mit Gott," a gorgeous melody composed by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

5) "Eternal Echoes," Itzhak Perlman and Meir Helfgott (Sony)

A follow-up in a way to his earlier (and catchier) In The Fiddler's House klezmer albums, the great violinist Itzhak Perlman here, in 2012, teams up with the famous cantor Meir Helfgott for songs of joy, songs of sadness, songs of the Jewish spirit. Helfgott's vocal deportment can be patchy, but it's well worth hearing.

6) In The Fiddler's House, Itzhak Perlman (EMI)

Perlman's personal journey to discover klezmer music started with a DVD (or video, as it was back then) and was accompanied by a fabulous CD...and eventually a follow-up album. The documentary remains one of the all-time great music docs, and one that is, by the time of its all-singing, all-dancing, all-fiddling finale, totally irresistible.

7) "Maoz Tzur," Israel Philharmonic cond. Zubin Mehta

The quintessential Chanukah anthem. The best we could find was this stirring version from Mehta and his Israel forces. All rather sumptuous.

8) "Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Chanukah," The Klezmatics

It's not classical, but it is great. The Klezmatics are one of the best of the modern klezmer bands; this Woody Guthrie project is one of their finest moments, unearthing and setting to new music a set of Guthrie lyrics he penned in the 1940s--which remained lost until 1998, when his daughter Nora Guthrie found them and asked the Klezmatics to set them.

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TagsClassicalite's Five Best, Itzhak Perlman, The Klezmatics, Meir Helfgott, Handel, Judas Maccabeus, Leonard Nimoy, Sony, EMI, Israel Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta, Jan Peerce, Woody Guthrie

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