The richly ethnic and exuberant Klezmer Fiddle Express of Alicia Svigal thrilled a capacity crowd Thursday night at the University of Albany’s Performing Arts Center.
The concert was a prelude to the year-long Jews along the Hudson lecture series, one of the show’s collaborators.
Svigal is known worldwide for rescuing klezmer fiddle playing from oblivion. Between studying with elderly klezmer fiddlers in New York City and vast research that included finding old records and scoping out archives, she has become a fountain of klezmer knowledge — even teaching violinist Itzhak Perlman a thing or two.
Her trio included accordionist Patrick Farrell, who has studied with some of the world’s greats in places like Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Romania, and bassist Jim Whitney, who is as at home with klezmer as he is with bluegrass and jazz. They provided fabulous support for Svigal, as well as exhilirating solos.
Klezmer traditionally is celebratory music played at weddings and community events. Technically, the music is in modal keys with oft-repeated phrases, lots of trills and grace notes. Tempos vary from a slow, swaying number to speedy, rollercoaster tunes that never seem to end.
Sometimes the melodies Svigal played were especially piquant or elegant, but they always had the style’s peculiarly joyful yet mournful sound. Rhythm, however, was king.
In the trio’s hands, the music had a lot of color, drive and atmosphere. It wasn’t about beauty, but instead message and intent. Svigal also sang up a storm in Yiddish with a raw, alto voice.
Her violin playing, too, wasn’t about fluidity and beautiful tone — scratchiness was OK — and she rarely stayed on any one note long enough to use vibrato. It was all about getting down and having fun.
Among the tunes they played were “Oy Tata” (Oh Daddy) — which had the audience clapping in time — and several tunes Ukrainian archivist Moshe Beregovsky recorded in the 1920s that have recently been discovered. These included “Good Morning,” a lilting tune in 3⁄8 time; “Patch Tanz,” which had about 25 people in the audience dancing in the aisles; Moshe Osher’s charming children’s song, “In My Little Town”; and two tunes by accordionist Emiel Kroiter that had a lot of bounce.
There were several other songs in the 90-minute set. One that the audience knew was the favorite Russian Jewish song “Tumbalalaika,” in which they joined in on the choruses.
Farrell took a few solos and impressed with his light fingers, rich ornamentation and fervor.
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