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Preparing Kol Nidrei (Part 1)

I have been playing Kol Nidrei for a small congregation for several years. For the last month, I've been on my yearly preparation for the service. Since I play at the service without a pianist, I don't use Bruch's concert version (especially since the second page is an entirely unrelated song). Instead, I play a cantorial version.

So most of my preparation is listening to cantors from various generations. A lot of the recordings of Kol Nidrei from the Golden Age of cantorial singing sound too flashy for my taste. It's wonderful singing, but I don't feel they capture the right sentiment. The following four recordings capture the grandness of the opening of Yom Kippur.

This rendition by Cantor Dan Mutlu is my favorite:

I also really enjoy Rabbi Angela Buchdahl's rendition:

Jan Peerce's doesn't feel especially religious, but he is one of my favorite singers and I love his voice. He sings one of the 3 common cantorial versions (Henry Russotto):

This year, I came across Cantor Selmar Cerini, the first recorded cantor. His first recording was in 1901! Here is a recording of him from I believe 1905:

It blows my mind that we can listen to someone born in 1860, and in such good quality! Cantor Cerini sang under Louis Lewandowski, who arranged one of the 3 common cantorial versions of Kol Nidrei. Incidentally, the man who introduced Max Bruch to Kol Nidrei worked closely with Lewandowski at the same synagogue.

The things I want to take away from these recordings into my own playing:

  • the projection and openness in the sound – singing and declamatory
  • varying levels of sentimentality and color
  • a religious feel – not just a glamorous sound

In the next part, I'll dive into the version I use, and how I prepare and play it.