Monday, December 29, 2008

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem - Concert for Life and Peace

The Concert for Life and Peace is a yearly event that takes place both in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Initiated and produced by Rino Maenza, under the auspices of the Association for Life and Peace, the project began in Christmas of 2001 and is a gesture of friendship, solidarity and hope to the people of Palestine and Israel by the President of the Italian Republic, the Italian Senate, several Italian regional authorities as well as private companies. This year’s concert featured the Capella della Pieta de’ Turchini Orchestra. Formed in Naples in 1987 by its present conductor Antonio Florio, the ensemble is made up of instrumentalists and singers who specialize in the performance of Neapolitan music from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and places importance on performing works of little-known composers. This concert included much Christmas content.

Following words of greeting in Italian, Hebrew and English and the lighting of candles for the first night of Chanukah (the Feast of Lights), the orchestra opened its concert with Angelo Ragazzi’s (c.1680-1750) “Sonata Pastorale” for violin solo and strings. This was followed by Oratio Giaccio’s “Peccatori Su Su”. Giaccio was born in Aversa towards the end of the sixteenth century, composing only secular music before his ordination as a monk in 1620, after which he composed mostly sacred music till his death in Naples towards 1660. The audience enjoyed this attractive pastoral chaconne, scored for strings, harpsichord, Baroque guitar, recorders and percussion, with its folksy, lilting, dance-like refrain, the artists performing without their conductor. Florio gave it a delicate reading. Tenor Giusseppe de Vittorio, remembered for his entertaining and theatrical performance with “Accordone” in the 2008 Israel Festival, is most suited, both vocally and in his freedom on the stage, to music of the folk genre and his Italian good nature lights up the concert hall. He was joined by Rosario Totaro; Totaro’s voice is more of the opera timbre, yet their voices blended well, their sense of timing balancing a sense of spontaneity. The orchestra was again joined by the two tenors in Bonaventura Cerronio’s “Gaudiamus Omnes” (Let Us Rejoice in the Lord), a mosaic of small sections with instrumental ritornelli.

Composer, violinist and organist, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1720-1736) was born in Jesi but moved to Naples in 1725, where he spent his working life in the service of aristocratic patrons, dying of tuberculosis at the tender age of 26. Maria Ercolano was the soloist in Pergolesi’s “Salve Regina” in A minor for soprano and strings. Composed in Latin during the Middle Ages, the verbal text is predominantly used in the Catholic church.
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope
To you we cry, the children of Eve,
To you we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this land of exile….”
Considering the fact that this is a Baroque work, Ercolano, an opera singer trained in Naples, uses much vibrato, but she has much presence, her voice has color and depth, she is convincing both in tragic and in joyful moments and her phrases are well crafted. Her performance of the work was detailed, profound and devotional.

Composer Emanuele Barbella (1717-1777) was born in Naples, working there as a violinist and teacher. Florio gave his lullaby, “Ninna Nonna” for strings and guitar, a dynamic reading characterized by dynamics sometimes ranging from piano to pianissimo, giving it real delicacy. Another Neapolitan composer, Nicola Fago (1677-1745), spent his life directing church music. His oeuvre includes operas, secular cantatas and arias and much sacred music. “Quid hic statis pastores” (There Were Shepherds Standing Here) is a Christmas motet scored for soprano, alto and instrumental ensemble, consisting of recitatives, duets and arias. Taking part in this joyful work was soprano Enas Massalha . Massalha, born in Nazareth, studied in Israel and performs widely in Europe. Those of us who heard her in the 2007 Concert for Life and Peace were interested and delighted to hear her once again this year. In the “Gloria” from Pietro Antonio Gallo’s “Messa in pastorale”, Florio, once more, made use of his palette of dynamic color.

Composer, musicologist, playwright and director Roberto De Simone, born in Naples in 1933, broke off a promising career as a concert pianist to study Anthropology and Ethnomusicology, researching shepherding and farming culture in Campania. In his version of the traditional “La Santa Allegrezza”, we are hard put to stay seated with this spirited, foot-tapping, strophic piece sung by both tenors and bass Sergio Petrarca, with recorders, pizzicato in ‘cello and double bass and the joviality of a tambourine to add to the dance-like quality. The concert ended with a tarantella from Cristofero Caresana’s (c.1640-1709) “Per la Nascita del Verbo”, a piece illustrating the vivacity and liveliness of Neapolitan music of the time, in particular, at Christmas. Opening with an ostinato on guitar and bass instruments, we begin to hear sections sung by tenors and bass, sections sung by the women, as well as a variety of little vocal solos, lovely recorder-playing and the joy of music-making so typical of Italian singers and players. The piece ended as it began, with just the few strand.

The annual Concert for Life and Peace is always a lively, festive affair. Antonio Florio guides his players with precision and understatement. His instrumentalists (and singers) blend well rather than taking on the character of an “orchestra of soloists”. A program of Neapolitan music, performed by a Neapolitan ensemble, has much to interest the concert audience. Fuller program notes, including texts of vocal works, would have been welcome, considering the number of little-known composers represented in the concert and the fact that Neapolitan Italian has its own expressions and nuances not always clear to all who understand basic Italian..

“From Bethlehem to Jerusalem” – Concert for Life and Peace
Capella della Pieta de’Turchini Orchestra
Antonio Florio-conductor
Maria Ercolano, Enas Massalha-sopranos
Alexandra Chebat-mezzo-soprano
Guiseppe De Vittorio, Rosario Totaro-tenors
Sergio Petrarca-bass
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre
December 21 2008.

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