Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ensemble Canzona, Musica Aeterna at Scottish Church in Jerusalem

A concert at the Scottish Church March 18 2009 featured works for women’s voices performed by two different choirs.

Ensemble Canzona, a choir of 15 women, affiliated with the Mevasseret Zion Conservatory, was founded by its present conductor Tatiana Mirsky in 1999. The singers are amateurs, but all have vocal experience; they perform liturgical- and contemporary music as well as Israeli works. In the summer of 2009, the choir will be taking part in “The Singing World International Festival” in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Ensemble Canzona opened the evening with short works by three French composers, beginning with Camille Saint-Saens’ (1835-1924) “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail, True Body) (1860) for women’s voices and organ. This was followed by Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) exquisite last motet using the same text, quite demanding in its crossing voice parts and dissonances, after which we heard his expressive “Ave Maria” (Hail Mary). Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) composed at least two motet settings to the “Tantum Ergo” (Therefore we, before Him bending) by Thomas Aquinas. Accompanied on the organ by the ensemble’s pianist, Bracha Einav, who is also a member of the choir, the ensemble gave expression to the lush, French Romantic harmonies of the piece. Singers and conductor were at a disadvantage, with the organ and Einav at the back of the church, the distraction of which affected intonation.

Ensemble Canzona ended their part of the concert with Antonio Lotti’s (1667-1740) a cappella Mass in A minor, a major undertaking, competently performed by them. Soloist was alto Nurit Nirel, whose many interpolations presented contrast and interest with her unique vocal color. Mirsky’s direction was energetic and contrasted, the choir’s intonation and diction pleasing.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Giovanni Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “Stabat Mater”, performed by women members of Musica Aeterna. Musica Aeterna was founded in 1996 by Ilya Plotkin, it performs a wide repertoire and has contributed much to the Israeli concert scene by introducing Russian music not previously heard here. In 2003, Plotkin founded Opera Aeterna, which, to date, has produced four operas and with great success.

Composed in 1736, this “Stabat Mater” is thought to have been Pergolesi’s last composition. Comprising of twelve sections, it boasts many moving melodies and has, indeed, been criticized for being too cheerful, considering it is a work describing the last breaths of Jesus. At the time he composed it, Pergolesi, himself was dying, probably of tuberculosis. The evening’s performance was one to delight the senses, Aeterna’s choral texture being rich and flexible, spiced with color and dynamic variety, voice-play and excitement. Soloists were Inessa Spak, Hilma Digilov, Anna Malania-Feder, Anna Yoffe, Helena Plotkin, Ekaterina Chepelev and Tatiana Mirsky, and they were outstanding. I felt the presence of a harpsichord, rather than the electronic keyboard used, would have done more justice to the singers and to Nataly Rotenberg’s attentive playing. Plotkin’s conducting and musical direction make for articulate and richly interesting musical performance.

St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
March 18 2009

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