Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Kuhn Choir of Prague sings Czech music in the 2012 Israel Festival

Antonin Dvorak

Following its participation in “The Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” the previous evening, the Kühn Choir of Prague (director: Marek Vorliček) performed a concert of Czech music June 1st 2012 in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. With the support of the Czech government and the Prague Municipality, the Kühn Choir is one of the groups participating in the “Days of Prague” events of the 2012 Israel Festival. The choir was established in 1958 by Pavel Kühn (1938-2003) and is known for its a cappella performances of Romantic music, oratorio- and cantata repertoire; the choir also collaborates with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Other of the choir’s projects have been with the Nederlands Dans Theater, in opera, film score recordings and many CD recordings. The Kühn Choir places importance on the singing of contemporary works, several of which have been written for the ensemble.

Before entering the Henry Crown Auditorium, festival-goers paused to enjoy a photographic exhibition of Prague Panorama (photographers Ondej Polak, Jan Vrabec) in the balcony lobby of the theatre complex sponsored by the Prague Municipality. The photos gave viewers a sense the atmosphere of Prague, showing the city and its architectural landmarks from a number of vantage points, as well as its alleyways and bridges, its towers and roofs.

The concert opened with six of Antonin Dvořák’s (1841-1904) Moravian Duets. Based on Czech folk poetry, the songs we heard were those transcribed by Leos Janacek (a Moravian) from the original two voices with piano to four-voiced mixed choir and piano. In a series of musical pieces evoking characteristic folk dances, richly-colored nature scenes, rustic life, love and disappointed love, Vorliček’s singers presented the audience with pictures of rustic life and folk; they performed them singing with precision, a warm, well-coordinated sound and the kind of dynamic variety which shapes the smallest of gestures.
‘If the scythe were sharpened
Keen will be the edge of yonder scythe blade
When arrives the harvest time;
Swiftly shall I cut the crimson clover,
Throwing out a scent divine.

Ye finest, finest blooms I shall not spare thee;
And my dearest lassie, malice shall I bear thee;
What art thou to me now,
Since another hast thou wed!’
Pianist Lenka Navratilova’s delicate, tasteful playing of the accompaniments was an integral, involved part of the fabric of the songs.

For Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) clarity, simplicity and directness make up his directness of expression. The almost “primitive” harmonic structures and fluid, transparent counterpoint he chooses do not culminate in a poverty of expression, of feeling or intellect. For his a cappella “Four Songs of Mary” for mixed chorus H.235 (1934) the composer chose parallel voices and homophony of the Middle Ages, basing the four Marian songs on Czech poetry. The Kühn Choir’s superbly balanced singing of these gave expression to their modality and their range of moods, their mystical moments giving rise to exuberance.

The concert ended with the performance of Czech composer Zdenĕk Lukáš’ (1928-2007) “Requiem” opus 252, now one of the focal a cappella works of modern Czech sacred repertoire. Writing much vocal music, the composer was strongly influenced by folk music and avant-garde techniques. The perfect vehicle for Maestro Vorliček and his singers’ musicianship, we heard the work performed with an astonishing variety of vocal timbres, from the uncompromising, vehemently intense cries of the Dies Irae to the velvety, caressing reading of the Lacrymosa, to the compassion of the Hostias. Phrases were finely chiseled and articulate. The excellence of the Kühn Choir’s balance, control and rich choral sound has been the source of much pleasure in the 2012 Israel Festival and “Days of Prague”. The two concerts performed by the Kühn Choir of Prague have left Israeli audiences with a lasting impression of fine Czech choral tradition.

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