The cello has an incredible range of emotional expression, with high notes that can thrill and a deep resonance capable of reaching into your gut and grabbing your attention. Given this, New York City cellist Richard Locker's Jewish Cello Masterpieces
is a special delight. A mix of “classical” pieces and “popular” melodies, the recording is foremost a soaring tribute to spiritually influenced music from several disparate quarters.
With literally thousands of sessions to his credit, Locker has played jazz, pop and classical with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Elvis Costello, and Pinchas Zuckerman. On his debut as a leader he uses the cello’s unmatched sonority to present fresh interpretations of pieces that straddle the 19th and 20th centuries. Repertoire staples like Bloch’s “Schelomo,” Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” and Ravel’s “Kaddisch” appear here, in addition to pleasurable forays into Yiddish popular song. Their consistently straightforward cello/piano duet format unites the CD into a singular work.
On “Schelomo,” a tribute to Solomon, near perfect interplay with Susan Walters’ piano tells a story with grand emotional peaks and valleys. Locker’s bowing repeatedly increases the tension to a near fever pitch as Walters provides emotional release. “Kol Nidre” has a solemnity and rich tone that serve to preserve and even enhance the piece’s spirituality. As the pace quickens and the mood changes, the duo coaxes surprising, almost improvisational, presentations of the well-known melody.
Six songs, four composed by the under-recorded Zavel Zilberts, follow the initial classical pieces. Zilberts, a cantor/composer and violinist from the early part of the 20th century, is shown to be a master of melody. The quick tempo of the playful klezmeresque “Reb Dovidl,” solemn liturgically inspired “V’shom’ru,” and popular-sounding “Hameros Halolu” and “Havdolo” are most noteworthy for the attention to song and style. The CD closes with the pathos of “Gelt,” a Yiddish Theater gem. Locker and Walters are classical players who are not afraid to take chances with a line or phrase. They make Jewish Cello Masterpieces a work that should be sought after by both musicians and listeners who enjoy a mix of cantorial or klezmer themes with their favorite genre.