The Leipziger Synagogalchor (Leipzig Synagogue Choir) was founded in 1962 by Werner Sander. As of 1972, cellist and opera tenor Helmut Klotz has been its musical director. Having sung in the role the Evangelist in J. S. Bach’s Passions, Klotz was now taking on the role of cantor of the Jewish synagogue. The mission of the choir is to preserve German synagogue- and Jewish music of the 19th- and 20th centuries; its repertoire also includes Yiddish- and Hebrew songs and works of contemporary Jewish composers.
The choir performs in Germany and has toured Israel, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Brazil, Sweden, Poland and the USA. The ensemble numbers some 30 members, all non- professional singers, most of whom have vocal training; they are joined by professional soloists – singers from opera houses in Leipzig, Berlin and Zurich – all members are non-Jewish. The personal commitment and idealism of Klotz and all his singers contribute to the success and uniqueness of the Leipziger Synagogalchor. In its performance of the old synagogue repertoire, the choir sings in the specific Ashkenazi pronunciation customary in German synagogues before the Holocaust. The choir has received awards and is supported by the City of Leipzig and State of Saxony.
The Leipziger Synagogalchor toured Israel in March 2010, performing in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Kfar Hachoresh and Jerusalem. Informative program notes were compiled by Professor Eliyahu Schleifer, who was among those who introduced the choir and program of the concert in the synagogue of Yad Vashem (Jerusalem). Soloists were Helmut Klotz himself, alto Ulrike Helzel and baritone Egbert Junghanns, with Clemens Posselt at the piano.
Typical of 19th century German synagogue music was Samuel Lampel’s (1884-1942) Ma tauwo/Ma Tovu (How goodly are your tents, O Jacob) for solo baritone, choir and piano, this work serving as the festive opening to Sabbath and holyday services. Singing the solo was baritone Egbert Junghanns, an opera singer, concert soloist and Lied interpreter. Samuel Lampel was the last cantor of the Leipzig Great Synagogue before the Holocaust. He perished in Auschwitz. Samuel Naumbourg (1815-1880), born in Bavaria, began his musical life as a choirboy in the synagogue in Munich and spent much of his professional life as chief cantor and musical director of the Great Synagogue of Paris. Ez chajim/Etz chayim (The Torah is the tree of life) for choir and piano is sung as the Torah scroll is being returned to the Ark after the reading on Sabbath and holydays. Naumbourg’s work brings together traditional cantorial style, folk melody and contemporary musical style (Naumbourg knew Meyerbeer and Halevy.) A program of this music would not have been complete without a piece by Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894), the most important composer of this genre of the 19th century. Born in Posen (then Poland), he emigrated to Germany at age 13. For many years he served as musical director of the New Synagogue in Berlin. The choir sang his Taurass Adaunoj/Torat Adonai (The Law of the Lord is perfect.) All the above choral works are decidedly central European in style, a reminder of how assimilated German Jewry had been in the 19th century. The Leipziger Synagogalchor’s performance of them was in keeping with their style, each vocal section well blended, the overall effect noble and balanced.
Yosef Dorfman (1940-2006) was born in Russia and immigrated to Israel in 1973. Two of his Yiddish settings – “Di Nacht” (after the melody of Aharon Domnitz, text Michael Gelbart) and “Ghetto Varsha” (after a melody of Leon Weiner, text Shmerl Katcherginski) – describe the horrors of the Holocaust. These works are more Eastern European in their musical concept and were sung in Yiddish. The choir’s rendering of “Ghetto Varsha” was heart-rending, the audience in the Yad Vashem synagogue left deep in thought on its conclusion, choosing silence rather than applause.
Professor Schleifer told the story of “Shtiler, Shtiler”, a song composed by Alexander Wolkowiski and arranged by Bonia Shur. A competition to write music had been held in the Vilna Ghetto. Eleven-year-old Alexander Wolkowiski wrote this Yiddish song, winning second prize. The song remained a hymn of the Holocaust thereafter. The composer of the song is none other than Jerusalem pianist Professor Alexander Tamir. Mezzo-soprano Ulrike Helzel’s solo above the choir was moving. Helzel, born in Magdeburg Germany, performs in opera and oratorio throughout Europe.
The Leipziger Synagogalchor is impressive in its careful working of fine voices, treatment of texts and fine musicianship, its humility and respect for Jewish tradition. Hearing the choir was, indeed, thought-provoking and uplifting.
Pamela Hickman, Musikkritikerin, Jerusalem