Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Charlotta Chorale of Tel Aviv at Christ Church, Jerusalem

The Charlotta Chorale of Tel Aviv performed a concert of short works at Christ Church, Jerusalem, on November 23rd, 2013. Eli Gefen, the choir’s founder and musical director, conducted and soloed. Anna Korochik accompanied on the piano. Choir members include people born in Israel, Russia, England, Japan and Korea. Named in memory of Eli Gefen's mother, the Charlotta Chorale would like to be seen as a witness to the hopes and values of those who long for peace and friendship. Maestro Eli Gefen was born in Bratislava. His father, a distinguished cantor, was offered a job in Vienna and the family consequently moved there. As a child, Gefen studied violin and, later, the bassoon. He has sung from a young age from the days when he sang in his father’s synagogue choir.

The program opened with the chorale from J.S.Bach’s Cantata no.140:
‘Gloria to Thee be sung now
With mortal and angelic voices
With harps and with cymbals, too…’
We heard two choruses from Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” (1845-1846) – the women’s trio “Lift Thine Eyes” and “Guardian of Israel” (Psalm 121), P.I.Tchaikovsky’s setting of “Let My Prayer Ascend” (Psalm 141) sung in Russian, American composer Randall Thompson’s fragile “Alleluia” and two pieces by British composer John Rutter (b.1945). Eli Gefen’s predilection for John Rutter’s music is all to the advantage of the Israeli listening audience: this music is direct, expressive and accessible. “Bogorodistse” (Rejoice, O Virgin) comes from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s a-cappella “All-Night Vigil” (1915), a work considered by some as being the composer’s finest composition.

Of a very different genre, I.Singer’s nostalgic Yiddish song “Fate”, sung unaccompanied, was gentle and moving. Gefen, himself, sang the solo. We heard one of Stephen Foster’s most beautiful serenades, the sweetly sentimental “Beautiful Dreamer”, sung with delicacy and natural shaping. Basque-Spanish Pablo Sorozábal (1897-1988) was mostly known as a conductor. One of his best remembered pieces for choir (and orchestra) is the Basque song “Maite” (Our Lady) from the soundtrack of the 1945 movie “Jai-Alai”. The Charlotta Chorale gave a pleasingly lilting reading of the song. For the program’s Israeli content, the choir sang “Eli, Eli”, David Zahavi’s setting of a poem of Hannah Szenes, in a magical rendering, including a delicate soprano solo. The “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s 1842 opera “Nabucco” made for a hearty encore; pianist Anna Korochik dealt well with the piano accompaniment, despite the poor state of the piano at Christ Church.

I have been following the Charlotta Chorale in recent years and have heard them perform most of the items in the above program. The choir sings in as many styles and languages as its members, all of whom display much dedication. What has eventuated since the choir’s re-organization is a silken, warm, sensitive choral blend of real beauty and musicianship. Eli Gefen encourages well-coordinated singing, dynamic variety and careful vocal control. The Charlotta Chorale is certainly a chamber choir of excellence.

No comments: