October 20, 2018

“Klezmer en Buenos Aires”

I first heard the duo “Klezmer en Buenos Aires” in a Buenos Aires 1940s-vintage corner bar called the Cafe Mar Azul. This tiny space, seating a few dozen people, was so packed with standees that night that they opened the big windows so that there were more people were listening from out on the street than there were inside the jammed bar.  The duo’s clarinet and accordion sang out onto the sidewalks until people were dancing on the pavement to the sobbing krekhts and trilling dreylekhs.

How would the intense intimacy that keyboardist Cesar Lerner and windplayer Marcelo Moguilevsky brought to that tiny venue over two years ago transfer to the Skirball Center’s large, formal auditorium? The answer, we found out is, just fine. At their performance on March 25, there wasn’t room for dancing. But the rapt listeners hummed, sang and clapped along with the magnetic, soft-spoken pair on stage as they played, for an almost non-stop hour and 45 minutes, an essential Klezmer—minus the costumes,  band instruments, bass fiddle and shtick. A simpler, songful, more soulful and, yes, intimate brand of Klez. Descended of Russian and Polish-Jewish immigrants to Argentina,  Moguilevsky and Lerner have been working together for over 20 years. (“There came a point,” Lerner said, “When, without saying a word, we agreed we’d never play another wedding.”)  And they have developed the bonded instincts of a great duo: Their traditional horas, sirbas and other dance tunes were sparked by Moguilevsky’s soul-wrenching clarinet and his amazing mastery of an instrument far from the Klezmer tradition—the baroque sopranino recorder (a tiny wooden pipe the size of an old-fashioned fountain pen), on which he is a world-class virtuoso, trilling happy blizzards of 32nd notes like bird calls in response to the Lisztian glissandi of Lerner’s grand piano and accordion.

At the concert’s heart, Moguilevsky broke into song, giving us a wrenching Ladino canzona called “La Serena.”  And then we were back to soaring dance tunes in the Yiddish tradition, until, as a final selection, the duo performed 4-hands at the piano, an accompaniment for a final, whistled lament by Moguilevsky. The audience gave standing ovations.

It was just too bad they couldn’t all dance.