In 1995, a Jewish neonatologist decided that the world needed a Jewish answer to the Gregorian chant craze that was sweeping the music world at the time. His answer was Chants Mystique: Hidden Treasures of a Living Tradition. The recording features Sephardic cantor Alberto Mizrahi’s undeniably gorgeous tenor voice under the baton of Matti Lazar. While I find the recording strikingly beautiful in parts I find it strikingly annoying in other parts. The New York Times critic had mixed views of the recording. But she liked precisely the section I didn’t:
Particularly effective is the “circular chanting,” in the opening selection and elsewhere: the choristers form a circle, and their entrances are staggered to achieve an unmanicured sound close to what might actually be heard during congregational chanting in a synagogue. At other times the choral sound is seamless, but the irregularity at the beginning sets the mood.
I found these sections of “circular chanting” (blessedly there are only two examples) to be both arresting and annoying at the same time. Arresting because they come the closest to imitating or reflecting the spectral Gregorian chant “sound.” And annoying because I can’t make heads nor tails of what the singers are actually singing since they each seem to be singing something different at the same time; and I even know the lyrics!
But in the Passover seder song, Ki Lo No’e (hear it), Mizrahi returns to a more conventional cantorial style, rich and beautiful. As the Times noted:
…The finale, Ki Lo No’e (“For to Him praise is proper”), a Passover prayer set to an Eastern European folk tune, offers some rousing extemporizations by the cantor.
The melody was composed by the great Eastern European Jewish cantor and composer for Yiddish films, theater and synagogue, Moishe Oysher. Oysher derives from an Ashkenazi musical tradition. It’s an important symbol of the streams of Jewish traditions enriching each other to hear a Sephardic cantor embrace an Ashkenazi rendition of this song.
Rabbi Peretz Rodman describes the song’s musical and Biblical background thus:
[It] describes the praise of the divine king by angelic choruses. Playing on verses in Psalms (65:2, 89:12) and I Chronicles (29:11), the refrain is built of repeating one- and two-syllable words and rhymes, and is therefore simple enough for children to sing: l’kha u-l’kha, l’kha ki l’kha, l’kha af l’kha…ki lo na’eh, ki lo ya’eh.
Click here to read the other Passover music posts in this series.