Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lenka Lichtenberg – Songs for the Breathing Walls

Songs for the Breathing Walls
Lenka Lichtenberg

(This review is from the March 18, 2013 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

In 2009, Lenka Lichtenberg, a Toronto-based singer and composer and daughter of a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Prague before coming to Canada as a young adult, performed concerts at two synagogues in the Czech Republic. Reflecting on the experience she decided to record an album of settings of Jewish liturgical material at 12 different synagogues – some of them restored as synagogues or museums of Jewish life, some of them derelict – throughout the Czech and Moravian areas whose Jewish populations were decimated by the Holocaust.

The result is the deeply moving Songs for the Breathing Walls – the “breathing walls” being the synagogues themselves still retaining something of the thousands of Jews who prayed there over the generations. As a result of the differing acoustics of the various synagogues, and the individualized settings and arrangements created for each piece, all of the tracks are unique unto themselves, but simultaneously part of the whole.

While the spirituality of every selection can be felt, perhaps the most moving piece is the version of “El Maley Rachamim” recorded in what was a hidden synagogue in the Theresienstadt concentration camp where Lichtenberg’s mother and grandmother spent much of the Second World War.

The CD package comes with a beautiful booklet with photos of the synagogues and notes about their history, as well as information about each of the selections. The album is a very special achievement.

For her work on Songs for the Breathing Walls, Lichtenberg was honoured as traditional singer of the year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in November.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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