Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Evening Concert at Christ Church,Jaffa Gate Jerusalem

The Bel Canto Choir, one branch of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, conducted by Noa Burstein, held its Summer Evening Concert at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Gothic-style church provided an attractive and atmospheric venue and was packed to capacity.

The concert opened with Italian, Jewish composer Salamone Rossi’s (c.1570-c.1630) setting of “On the Banks of the Babylon” (Psalm 137). Published in 1623 in a collection of Psalms and motets with all Hebrew texts, this a cappella work depicts the anguish of exiled Jews and their longing for Jerusalem. In a rich, mellow blend of voices, the choir captured the personal expression of the work. Estonian composer, Urmas Sisask (b.1960) is known mainly for his choral works. The clean melodic lines of his “Dona Nobis Pacem” reflect his interest in Gregorian chant. Imitative and characterized by parallel-moving fourths, it was performed with accuracy. Of the Franco-Flemish school, Orlando di Lasso (c.1532-1594) composed his homophonic madrigal “Matona Mia Cara” to the rather vulgar words of a German soldier singing to a woman in his German-accented Italian. The choir performed it with elegance, enjoying its lush harmonies; the bell-like effects of the refrain were no less than delightful. After G.G.Gastoldi’s (c.1550-1662) lilting madrigal “Il Bell’Umorre” (In Merry Mood) we then heard Alessandro Scarlatti’s (1660-1725) sacred a cappella piece “Exultate Deo” (Rejoice to God), (Psalm 61). I found the choir’s intonation excellent but there was a tendency to over-accent each beat rather than create phrases. The first part of the concert ended with Joseph Rheinberger’s (1839-1901) “Stabat Mater”. Composed in 1890 for mixed choir, organ and optional string orchestra (we heard it with string quartet), it is an intense work of spiritual conviction. The choir performed it expressively, contrasting moments of velvety compassion with jagged, intense fiery sections. I asked myself whether choir members understood the verbal text well enough. This was followed by F.Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Stabat Mater” in g minor, D.175 (1815), scored for choir and orchestra. Here it was accompanied by ‘cello, two flutes and piano.

There were two Israeli works on the program. Yehezkel Braun (b.1922) arranged the Sephardic romance “Molinero” (The Miller) in 1980. Sung in Ladino, it is an uncluttered setting and the choir captured the style well. The lyrics to “Tirza Yaffa” (Pretty Linden) were written by Ch.N.Bialik, the music by N.Cohen-Havron. This lovely arrangement for choir and piano was performed with the freshness and fragrance of Nature depicted in the text.

Argentinian composer and virtuoso bandoneon (a large button accordion) player, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) blends traditional, earthy and folk elements into richly colored works. His “Chiquilin de Bachin”, to words by Horacio Ferrer, for choir, piano and solo alto, is melodic and sentimental. Choir member, Susana Huler, familiar with the language and genre, sang the solo.
‘Evenings with his face all dirty,
Like an angel in blue jeans,
He sells roses at the tables
In the diner of Bachin’s:
If the moon is shining
On the oven lining,
He eats moonlight and burnt beans (Translation: Coby Lubliner.)

British composer and arranger, Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) uses highly effective and uncomplicated choral devices to produce music that is attractive and appealing. In a relaxed and flowing arrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday”, Burstein and the choir delighted the audience. Soprano Aviva Barazani wove her solo into the choral texture with charm, technical ease and color, her high range ringing out silvery and rich.

Bel Canto’s repertoire includes Afro-American spirituals. The choir was joined by guest soloist, Yael Tai, whose large, full-colored voice filled the church and she dazzled the audience with her competent, emotional and authentic performance. The evening ended with the joyful spiritual “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” sung a cappella, with choir member Dov Faust singing a lovely bass solo.

Noa Burstein has chosen some fine singers for the Bel Canto choir. As a result of the thorough vocal and musical training for which she is known, she produces a beautiful choral blend in performance that is accurate, expressive, in-depth and well-tuned. Burstein’s choice of repertoire is challenging and varied, offering both singers and audience a taste of the wide range of choral music. Pianist Tanya Schupak accompanies sensitively and with taste. Bel Canto’s performance would benefit from more work on diction.

Bel Canto Choir of the Jerusalem Oratorio
Conductor-Noa Burstein
Tanya Schupik-piano, organ
Yael Tai-guest soprano
Aviva Barazani-soprano
Susana Huler-alto
Dov Faust-bass
Nava Schwarzwald, Tamar Kornhendler-flutes
Ariella Zeitlin, Sofia Korsanova-violins
Anna Shapiro-viola
Gilad Arnon—‘cello
Christ Church, Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem
Wednesday June 11, 2008.

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