In the Fiddler 's House (Angel).
Itzhak Perlman

By Bob Bahr

Over the course of its centuries-spanning life, klezmer music — the celebration music of Eastern European Jews — has seen its lead instrument change with the tastes and needs of its audience. Since the advent of the age of recording, the clarinet has been the dominant instrument in klezmer. But on In the Fiddler's House, classical violinist ltzhak Perlman's dramatic embrace of his Yiddish musical background, the focus is on the fiddle, klezmer's favorite instrument during the years of immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Perlman is joined by a rotating platoon of contemporary klezmer bands for fifteen new and traditional songs. Do you like klezmer music? This is good klezmer music.

If you don't know klezmer music, In the Fiddler 's House is the methodical approach to a new genre; this is a fun, respectful blend of old and new, traditional and progressive, solemnity and hardcore partying. In "Simkhes—Toyre Time," one verse of the Yiddish lyrics translates as "Is it the streets that are spinning with me?/Is it the house that's doing the same? ... Even the moon. and stars/Have gone off to drink some wine." Yes, it's party time, but the reason for the occasion is the beginning of a new cycle for reading the Torah, the first five books of Moses. Klezmer music is a sign of the intricate weave of religion, dance and cultural unity that marks what the liner notes call "an empire with neither king nor army"—the Jewish tradition.

Since Perlman is considered to be one of the most accomplished violinists of our day, one might expect the playing on this album to be flawless. It isn't, because Perlman is going for passion over perfection. And the passion is here — "Basarabye" and "Tat Un Mama Tants" churn and chug like the Orange Blossom Special. "Reb Itzik's Nign" and "Di Gayster" bookend the CD with dramatic, mournful fiddling that convey pain and soulful ache. Even the accordion that is present on a few cuts manages to sound soulful.

The geographic center for klezmer music is Romania and Western Russia, and a new listener might detect these Slavic roots. A touch of Middle Eastern sounds are detectable too, and lifelines to Greek music and America's acoustic tradition are evident as well.

I played this disc in the company of people from a variety of backgrounds and age groups. The next time they come to my home, they may not request In the Fiddler's House, but in their first listen, all to a one made a point of praising the disc and asking about it. Soulfulness transcends all cultures, and this disc is a nice visit to the lively culture of Judaism.