It is truly extraordinary how so many treasures of Jewish music got lost or were concealed behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. In this case it is Yiddish songs by Jewish soldiers in the Red Army, collected in the 1940s by musicologist Moisei Beregovsky (1892-1961). The collection was discovered in unmarked boxes in the Vernadsky National Library, Kiev, in the 1990s but it has taken till now to bring them to life again. Most of the 18 songs, about heroic but brutal deeds in the army, are satires against Hitler and accounts of atrocities, including the massacre at Babi Yar. They found only lyrics, so the music has been created mainly from folk and
popular songs by Russian singer Psoy Korolenko and arranged by violinist Sergei Erdenko. With vocals mainly by Korolenko, Erdenko and the excellent Canadian singer Sophie Milman, the style is cabaret and popular song rather than klezmer.
Some of the songs are alarmingly brutal (‘My Machine Gun’ and ‘Babi Yar’), others very moving (‘Mames Gruv’ and ‘Tulchin’), the latter possessing a truly haunting melody. It’s a remarkable labour of love and is brilliantly executed. Simon Broughton