Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two choirs close the November 2012 Choral Fantasy Festival

On November 3rd 2012, the closing program of the first part of the Choral Fantasy Festival (November 1-3) was performed by two choirs – the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir (conductor Stanley Sperber) and the Megiddo Choir (conductor Pnina Inbar) at the Mary Nathanial Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem International YMCA. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Chuck (Yehoshua) Kleinhaus.

The evening began with two movements from Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) “Messa di Gloria”, composed by Puccini at age 18 as his graduation thesis from the Institute Musicale in Lucca. One frequently associates the composer with his operas; the writing of sacred music, however, had been a tradition of four generations in his family. Sperber wielded the many singers of both choirs plus other singers, placed in three parts of the hall, with amazing command, resulting in a well-coordinated choral sound with good dynamic variety, joy and many velvety, lyrical moments. Soloist was tenor Liran Koppel. A user-friendly work, the “Messa di Gloria” nevertheless evokes the effervescence, color and freshness of Puccini’s operas.

The 33 singers of the Megiddo Choir then performed a number of very different pieces, from Joseph Bardanashvili’s (b.1948) haunting setting of Psalm 123, to Poulenc’s motet “Hodie Christus Natus Est”, to more traditionally-based works such as a tasteful,  balanced performance of a Hadjidakis song, the gentle, lilting and beautifully blended singing of a Catalonian song, Gispert Fabres’ spirited “Boleras Sevillanas” with soprano solo and castanets, Hebrew songs and Pnina Inbar’s own arrangement of Ro’i Raz’s “Psalm 23”. With soloists and pianist all choir members, the ensemble gave a polished, well rehearsed and rewarding performance.

The Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, its members placed the length of both aisles, with Maestro Sperber on the stage, performed a mellifluous, well blended performance of Salamone Rossi’s (c.1570-1630) “Elohim Hashivenu” (O God, restore us)from Psalm 80, followed by Yehezkel Braun’s (b.1922) “Dror Yikra” (He will proclaim freedom) - a colorful arrangement of three traditional oriental versions of the famous medieval poetic text, with the sound of the darbuka adding to its oriental flavor.

One of the evening’s highlights was the first Israeli performance of Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet for eight five-part choirs - “Spem in alium” (Hope in any other). The work is listed in the catalogue of Nonsuch Palace, the country home of Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel, whose banqueting hall was octagonal with four first floor balconies, a suitable venue for such a work. Some historians suggest it was written to honor Queen Elizabeth I’s fortieth birthday, another theory being that it was written for Mary Queen of Scots. Each of the eight choirs consists of a soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass singer; the work, beginning with a single voice, includes much imitation, smaller ensembles and larger, and some homophonic sections, its course presenting new musical ideas as it progresses. With each choir singing sections and then falling silent, the most astounding effect of the work is the moving of sound from choir 1 to choir 8 and, later, from choir 8 to choir 1 – a kind of natural, moving spotlight effect. The text is adapted from the Book of Judith:
‘I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
Who can show both anger and graciousness
And who absolves all the sins of suffering man.
Lord God, creator of heaven and earth,
Be mindful of our lowliness.’
The JAMD Chamber Choir’s eight quintets were placed on stage and in both aisles, not the ideal arrangement for singers relying on eye contact; not all individual groups were heard articulately. The moving effect was, indeed, present, with much fine resonance and sparkle in the homophonic sections. Where groups got a little out of kilter they resynchronized themselves. Stanley Sperber’s reading of the work preserved “Spem in alium”’s sacred character.

The Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir then presented a number of spirituals, folk songs, Hebrew songs and songs that have been set by the King’s Singers. Taking on board arrangements that were mostly very challenging, Sperber and his singers entertained the audience with choral performance that was polished, sophisticated and precise, whether in the flexed Haim Hefer/Sasha Argov song “The Purple Dress”, the silky, touching rendering of American folk song “Shenandoah”, a feisty, jazzy performance of the Beetles song of 1968 “Back in the USSR” or an appealing, fragile rendition of the traditional Afro-American spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning”. The JAMD Chamber Choir is cutting-edge and highly professional.


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TIK said...
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