Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

American Chanukah

Robin Spielberg

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This CD 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.

This reassuring 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."

Regardless of 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 this piece.

"Jerusalem, 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.

The album's 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.

I particularly 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.

It says 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!

Another slow, 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.

The second 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 thought.

The twelfth 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.

American 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.

This 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!








American Chanukah

American Chanukah

Robin Spielberg











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