Oid Yosef Chai, Volume 3 reviewed by: Simcha Leiner
Wow. There are few things as scary as reviewing a R’ Yossele Rosenblatt album! Aside for the fact that there are and were few voices that can even compare to his, one must be very careful about is what said about anyone posthumously. For this reason, I will try to focus more on the song itself and the re-mastering more than anything else.
Just a background: The Od Yosef Chai program was launched by R’ Mendy Werdyger in honor of the 75th Yortzeit of the great R’ Yossele Rosenblatt. He felt that the legendary voice of R’ Yossele deserved to be heard in all its glory and detail. Due to the fact that audio recording was in its earliest stages of development; the audio was captured with much ‘dirt’ and static. Over the past few years, audio restoration has become a very popular and innovative field for many audio engineers.
The first thing that strikes you when listening to Volume 3 of the Od Yosef Chai albums is the clarity and cleanliness of the track. I can honestly say that since the previous release (volume 2) the technology has improved beyond compare! Although the other 2 albums were a major improvement over the original 78s, Volume 3 completely transforms the listening experience. The hisses – GONE the static – GONE, all that’s left is pure emotion. While the restoration is impeccable there are a couple things to note. First off, even though there is no background noise, there is a clear difference in the sound of the voice compared to a recording of today. There are certain frequencies and details that were not picked up and we will never be able to change that. Also on some tracks the accompaniment can get a little overwhelming but more on that later.
Track 1. I’m not sure as to the order of the songs, (why one was put before the other) but I felt that this one should not have gone first. In my opinion you can hear a little more background noise in this song more than any other. But aside from that it is one of those songs from Yossele that you don’t hear by every tribute concert, which is a nice thing. A very interesting note, the arranger listed on this song is Nethanel Shikrit (who later worked with Jan Peerce for Victor Records). Nethanel at the time was in his heyday, earning top awards such as Grammys, Oscars, and the like!
Track 2. This is one of my favorite songs from Yossele songbook. There hasn’t been anyone that can convey this much sincere emotion since… Joseph Pasternak, an extremely popular figure in the music world, arranged the song. His skill set really shines through when you listen to the beauty of the arrangements and simplicity, which is almost non-existent in today’s Jewish music and especially in the Chazzanus world. It is a subject of much debate amongst Chazzanus lovers as to how big the accompanying orchestra should be. But due to the recording studio size in the early 1900s, there never were more than a few chamber style orchestra musicians recorded. This, in my opinio,n only gave the Chazzan the ability to show every part of his voice without interruption.
Track 3. And now we come to the songs that you can hear attempted by every major Chazzan over the years! In my opinion the only one out there that came up to the toes of Yossele when covering this song was Simcha Kousevitsky. In the Bayomim Haheim series from Dr. Mordechai Sobel, you can hear the song with a full arrangement. I took this as an opportunity to listen to them side by side. When you hear the voice without the symphony sound behind it (which is an amazing listen in its own right…) you can hear the perfection in his voice, something that will never be duplicated.
Tracks 4, 5, and 6. All these songs have had a major transformation, which is very similar to one another. I know I mentioned this already but get out the records and listen to them side by side! It is hard to believe that they were really recorded almost 90 years ago! Here is when you could tell that the first two albums had a much easier selection to feel nostalgic to. When the really popular tunes get used up you have to use the songs that was sung in every shul and concert. It is a real pleasure to learn a few new songs that I haven’t heard before…
Track 7. A couple years ago I was walking through the streets of the Upper West side on a Shabbos afternoon. I walked past Ohev Tzedek when I realized it was within a day or two of Chaf Hey Sivan, the Yortzeit of Yossele Rosenblatt! I went inside to find an empty dark shul (expectedly, as it was shabbos afternoon). It really hit me, that this is the shul (while in most cases another location) that Yossele sang in and now 75 odd years later there was no memorial taking place on his Yortzeit! It was then that I sat down and sang this song Habein Yakir Li. What’s amazing about this song on the album is that you have the Ohev Tzedek choir accompanying.
Track 8. Also an early recording with the choir, you can get a real feel for the younger Yossele. Many people don’t realize that Yossele passed at the young age of 51. We can only be awed by how much he accomplished in his relatively short career.
Track 9. So how old is the tune for Kol Nidrei? Well here is proof that it is at least 80 years old! Actually its a lot older than that… There is not much one can say about this song aside from the fact that it is a ‘classic’!
Track 10. As it says on the insert, this song was produced under the Odeon Label. Odean was the creation of the International Talking Machine Corporation. They were the first major label company, similar to the type we have today. This is a really beautiful way to end the album with a soft upbeat song from the younger voice that just floats its way through the song!
In conclusion, this is a must-buy for any Chazzanus enthusiast, as well as those dipping their toes into the waters of cantorial music! And although there will never again be an opportunity to hear Yossele Rosenblatt live, this is definitely the closest you will get!!