Saturday, July 4, 2009

Israel Camerata Jerusalem "Sacred and Profane". Works by Aharon Harlap, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn

Bringing its 25th season to a festive end, the Israel Camerata Jerusalem presented “Sacred and Profane”, the sixth concert in “The Human Voice” series June 29th 2009 at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Commemorating 200 years of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth, the program included two works by the composer, one by his sister Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, the concert opening with Aharon Harlap’s “Psalms”.

Canadian-born composer Aharon Harlap (b.1941) immigrated to Israel in 1964. The recipient of several awards for composition, he conducts and is a member of faculty at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. Harlap’s “Psalms” were initially composed for soprano, piano and clarinet and first performed in 2002. The performance we heard was the first in its new scoring for strings, clarinet and soprano. Psalm 122 “I rejoiced with those who said to me/ “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”, Psalm 113 “Praise the Lord./ Praise, O servants of the Lord/ Praise the name of the Lord” and Psalm 43 “Vindicate me, o God/ And plead my cause against an ungodly nation;/ Rescue me from deceitful and wicked men” make up the three movements of the work, each different in character. Harlap’s orchestration is masterful, lush and expressive; clarinet and vocal line are both prominent and part of the texture. Psalm 113 was joyful and had jazzy colorings, with Psalm 43 contrasting in its vehemence and poignancy. Israeli soprano Efrat Carmoush, aware of each verbal- and musical gesture, gave a meaningful performance of the work. Her voice boasts color and presence. Clarinetist Ilan Schul’s performance was lyrical and polished.

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805-1847), Felix Mendelssohn’s elder sister, a fine pianist and composer in her own right who was underappreciated for many years, has since become recognized as a major 19th century composer. Although her career was restrained by early 19th century attitudes to women wanting careers, her oeuvre consists of over 250 Lieder, 125 piano pieces, a string quartet, an overture, a piano trio and cantatas. Goethe had spoken of her as Felix’s “equally gifted sister”. Many of her works were performed in the “Sonntagmusik” (Sunday music, the Mendelssohn family salon concerts which she had herself had revived.) The opportunity to now have her works performed inspired her to write four cantatas from 1831 to 1832. In the Camerata concert, we heard the Israeli premiere of “Hiob” (Job) – a cantata for choir and orchestra, a work of meticulous structure, excellent orchestration and layered choral writing. Fanny Mendelssohn’s strong grounding in late Baroque music (her only son was named Sebastian) makes itself felt. The Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music’s (Stanley Sperber – conductor and musical director) performance was finely chiseled, its training, technique and musicianship giving expression to the rich texturing of the work as well as to the verbal text.

Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) referred to his setting of Psalm 42 “Wie der Hirsch schreit nach frischem Wasser” (As the Hart Longs for Running Streams) opus 42 composed in 1837, as “my best sacred piece…the best thing I have composed in this manner…” and required that the work be performed with particular tenderness. Built of seven sections, Biron opened with the first, much-loved chorus paced not too fast, the result being a clean, poignant and impressively noble reading of the movement. This was, indeed, a highlight of the concert. In the second section, the superb oboe accompaniment played by Muki Zohar, sets the scene for Carmoush’s expressive treatment of “Meine Seele duerstet nach Gott” (My Soul Thirsts for God). Her German pronunciation is pleasing and clear.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 4 in A major opus 90 “Italian” was begun in 1832, during his two-year stay in Italy, and completed on his return to Berlin. It was inspired by the art, the natural surroundings and the happy temperament of the Italian people. From the outset, the Camerata’s fine woodwind section gave authenticity to the typical Mendelssohn orchestration of this exuberant work. The second movement – Andante con moto – was played with delicacy and charm. In the fourth movement, a saltarello – a Neapolitan dance of hops and leaps - Biron gives Mendelssohn’s dynamics front stage, yet still sketching in fine, filigree melodic lines. Avner Biron is leading the Israel Camerata Jerusalem from strength to strength. His programming is creative, offering orchestral concerts of a high quality that delight his audiences.

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