features fourteen tracks of Jewish Sephardic,
Ashkenazi, Israeli, Irish and American origin,
capturing the feeling of Chanukah, a holiday that is
rooted in the belief that when it is darkest, it is
always possible to find light.
thought is reflected in the music contained within
this CD. This is solo piano in its entirety, and the
pieces are very easy on the ear, being both
accessible and highly melodic. Robin Spielberg
provides some background about Chanukah. She says,
"A small group of believers, the Macabees, managed
to drive off a far stronger Syrian army, winning an
impossible war in 168 BCE. These soldiers, guided by
faith, reclaimed Jerusalem, overcoming amazing odds.
They cleansed the temple which had been profaned and
left in ruins, and rededicated the sanctuary.
Finding only enough oil to last one night, they
kindled what they had and sent for more. While it
took over a week to restock the supply, the small
amount of oil somehow managed to last the entire
week. This miracle of light is the basis of the
story of Chanukah, and it is this miracle we
celebrate when we light a candle on the menorah, for
each of the eight nights of Chanukah."
the listener's faith, this CD is a highly enjoyable
affair. It opens with "Chanukah, Chanukah" and "I
Have a Little Dreydel". Upon first listening, it
reminded me of a gentle lullaby, and Robin explains
that the music brings back memories of her
childhood, when, along with her sister, they were
guided into the attic to feel for a present for each
of the eight nights of the festival. These were
clearly exciting moments for the composer, and the
merriment is carried through into the playing of
Jerusalem" begins in quite a sombre fashion, but
develops into a beautiful piece. Written in 1967 by
Israeli composer Naomi Shemer after the six-day war,
it tells the story of the beauty, spirit and love of
this ancient city. Always melodic, the music is a
joy to hear from start to finish.
third track has a hymn-like quality and one is
almost expecting lyrics to be sung. I'm glad this
doesn't occur, as it would detract from the
beautiful piano playing. Again a piece steeped in
history, Robin explains how this song started its
life as a poem in the Middle Ages. It was not set to
music until the 19th. Century, in Germany. The
message of the poem- that faith in God will help us
conquer our foes, triumph over tyrants and "lead us
to a time when all people are free", is a message
that other religious congregations have adopted over
the years, making this hymn universally popular.
Another delightful piece.
enjoy the melody from track four, which comes from
an unexpected source: Fiddler on the Roof! This is a
wonderful piece to enjoy, and Robin's version is of
the highest order. Another catchy melody is to be
found on the next track, the traditional piece "O
Chanukah, O Chanukah." It has a busyness about it,
and is basically a call of togetherness in the run
up to Chanukah. The tune, based on a Chassidic
melody, became popularised by Jewish travelling
bands known as Klezmer- and they would play this
during Chanukah. Again this is a piece often heard
with lyrics, which again demonstrates the melodic
qualities of the track.
something about the quality of the performer that my
favourite cut of the CD is an original piece by
Robin Spielberg, entitled "West Bank Serenade". In
many ways, this is a call for peace, having been
composed during the early terrorist suicide bombing
attacks in the West Bank. It features a lovely
melody and some very impressive piano playing. It is
a very powerful piece, its music and its message not
leaving the listener in a hurry.
Track seven, "Zum
Gali Gali" is another traditional piece. It has a
simple melody and has quite a slow tempo. This song
was sung by the early Zionist pioneers before the
founding of Israel. The tune is very catchy and has
an innocent charm about it. I love this track!
but very beautiful piece is to be found in the
eighth cut of the CD, "Chanukah Prayer". Again, this
is a traditional piece. As it develops, it opens
like a Summer flower for all to enjoy. A similar
theme continues in the next track, "Hanerot Halalu".
Once more, this is a traditional piece, more
specifically a traditional Chassidic melody, sung
during the lighting of the Chanukah candles. It is
very delicate and tranquil, perhaps reflecting the
spiritual significance of the piece.
Robin Spielberg original arrives with the tenth
track of the CD. "First Night" has a catchy melody
and again amply demonstrates the composer's
undoubted prowess at the piano. In the notes, Robin
explains how this piece was originally written to
honour the first night of the New Year, and has
since adapted it to fit in with the first night of
Chanukah. As she explains in her own words, "The
song is about reflection on the past, putting it in
its proper perspective, and looking hopefully
towards the future." It's a song for contemplation
and meditation; very gentle and soothing.
In many ways,
the same could be said for "One", which derives from
another unexpected source: the Irish band U2. This
is Robin's own take on the popular song, and she
explains how she was particularly taken by the
lyrics emphasising the futility of war. The melody
is gorgeous, and this is a song I like to listen to
over and over again. Another favourite! The opening
and ending of the track are very tranquil, again
encouraging the listener to lose themselves in
track, "Hatikvah / The Song of Hope" has another
appealing melody, and is a version of the Israeli
National Anthem. The composer considers this anthem
to be one of the most beautiful and spiritual in the
world, and upon listening for oneself, it is hard to
disagree. Yet another lovely piece on an album full
of wonderful music.
Chanukah's penultimate track is entitled "Ofi'n
Pripitchik", and is a Yiddish folk song celebrating
the warmth of the house when the stove is kindling
wood. The song is also a metaphor: just as the wood
brings warmth to the home, so Chanukah brings
spiritual warmth to the heart and spirit. Another
gentle, undemanding piece, lovingly played by Robin.
exceptionally impressive album closes with a
traditional song called "Tumbalalaika". I was about
to write that it again reminded me of a gentle
lullaby, only to check the extensive notes provided
by Robin to indeed find that is exactly what it is!
As the listener would expect, it soothes the soul
and is soporfic in nature. It is the perfect way
with which to close the CD.
The music on
American Chanukah is of the highest order. I think
the project has been so successful as it is
something clearly close to the composer's heart.
Several years in the making, and aided by all manner
of people, (including Robin Spielberg's 99 year old
Grandmother at the time of the project) the end
result is a stunning CD filled with the most
beautiful melodies imaginable. Extremely accessible,
the album provides highlight after highlight. There
is not a single weak track on this CD, and most
certainly no fillers. The extensive notes provided
allow the more curious listener to delve deeper into
the music and its inspiration, but it works equally
as well to the casual piano lover, who wants to be
entertained for over fifty-three minutes by
memorable, exquisite melodies. A fascinating, deeply
personal CD, and one that without question is
deserving of the Piano Heaven Gold award. Robin
Spielberg has such a delicate touch with the piano,
and she and it are as one. Bravo, Ms. Spielberg!