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Songs of Russia Old & New / Russian Gypsy

Theodore Bikel

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Album Review

Actor and musician Theodore Bikel had already established himself as a major talent with a series of ethic folk albums in which he interpreted traditional Yiddish and Hebrew songs, but he enjoyed his first major critical and commercial success on record with a pair of Russian folk collections: 1958's Songs of a Russian Gypsy and 1960's Songs of Russia Old & New. Out of print for some time, Bikel's Russian LPs make their belated CD debut in this two-fer edition from Collectors Choice Music. Oddly, the first and livelier of the two albums, Songs of a Russian Gypsy, takes up the second half of the set, while the more varied follow-up, Songs of Russia Old & New, opens the show, though the sequence does make for a rousing finish, and the albums play quite well as a set — the same cast of musicians appears on both, lending fine support to Bikel's powerful vocals, and the drama and emotional force of the material is well served on both albums. The greatest strength of these recordings is, of course, Bikel's striking performances, which are emotional without becoming melodramatic, and are so pitch-perfect in their strength of feeling that one doesn't need to understand Russian to register the joys and agonies of these songs. Significantly recorded when America was hip-deep in the Cold War, Bikel's Russian albums spoke volumes for the humanity of the Soviet proletariat at a time when most folks in the West regarded them as an enemy to be feared, and the artistry of these 28 songs is a joy to behold. The set also includes a fine essay on Bikel's Russian recordings from writer Richie Unterberger.

Biography

Born: 02 March 1924 in Vienna, Austria

Genre: Classics

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

A talented folksinger and actor, Theodore Bikel has carved out his place in the modern entertainment industry as a renaissance man. For over 50 years, Bikel has impacted film, the stage, and the arts, from his supporting role in The African Queen in 1951 to his appearance at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival to his appointment to the National Council for the Arts in 1977. Although he was born in Austria, he has lived in Israel, England, and the United States and speaks five languages....
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Songs of Russia Old & New / Russian Gypsy, Theodore Bikel
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