Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir presents "Viva la musica!"

The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir’s annual gala concert took place on May 28th 2014 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. “Viva la musica!” was the title given to the program music of Italian composers, or music in the Italian language, stretching from the Renaissance to 19th century choral pieces from Italian opera.

Established in 1987, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir is the largest of its kind in Israel, its 150-or-so members consisting of amateur- and semi-professional singers coming from many sections of Jerusalem's local- and foreign communities. Having become an independent, member-based association, the choir today continues to receive funding from the Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Jerusalem Municipality. The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir actually comprises five choirs, each working independently, with some joint annual collaboration. In total, they perform some 20 concerts a year. The five ensembles are as follows: The Oratorio Singers, directed by Ms. Naama Nazrathy Gordon, Bel Canto, directed by Ms. Noa Burstein, Cantabile (a women's choir), directed by Ms. Flora Vinokurov, Capellatte, directed by Ms. Shelley Berlinsky (absent from the concert due to imminent childbirth) and The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, directed by Mr. Ofer dal Lal. Ms. Tania Schupak is the choir’s piano accompanist. The Oratorio Choir was joined by the Israel Chamber Orchestra, by Tania Schupak and Natalie Povolotsky (piano, organ) and soloists soprano Svetlana Kosyatova and mezzo-soprano Ella Wilhelm. Veteran radio announcer Hayuta Dvir emceed the event.

Throughout the evening, each choir sang separately, with several works performed by two or more of the choirs. In singing that was both majestic and transparent, the program opened with “Barekhu” (Bless the Lord, Songs of Solomon) and “Halleluja” (Psalm 146) works of the Jewish Italian composer Salomone Rossi (1570-1630), the first non-cantorial composer to use Hebrew texts. Continuing with two witty villanellas of Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso (1530-1594), “O La, O Che Buon Eccho” (The Echo Song) was sung by heart by Capellatte and Bel Canto, making for much eye contact between singers and finely crafted, natural echo effects. In “Matona Mia Cara”, a bawdy song mocking the efforts of a German soldier to clumsily woo an Italian lady, Bel Canto and the Chamber Choir blended well, shaping phrases delicately…perhaps too delicately for such a text! Reacting sensitively to Nazrathy Gordon’s conducting, the Oratorio Singers and Chamber Choir created the sacred, reverent mood of the Kyrie from G.Rossini’s (1792-1868) “Petite Messe Solenelle”, with its musical references to the “stile antico” style and the unconventional but highly effective piano and organ accompaniment. (This scoring arose from the fact that the work was premiered in the private chapel of Countess Louise Pillet-Will, in which there were both piano and harmonium.) Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) “Magnificat”, performed by the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir and conducted by Nazrathy Gordon, brought the first half of the concert to a close. Here, the choir displayed a well-trained choral sound and clear understanding of the verbal text, with the movements well contrasted, their singing of the gorgeous and plangent “Et misericordia” (And His mercy is on them) bathed in poignancy and anguish, the “Fecit potentiam” (He hath showed strength) deisplaying the text’s spirit of strength. Svetlana Kosyatova and Ella Wilhelm gave impressive, pleasing performances, both as soloists and in duo.

With Ofer dal Lal conducting, we heard the Chamber Choir and Bel Canto in one of the many settings (they range from four- to ten voices) of the “Crucifixus” text by Antonio Lotti (1667-1740). Their singing presented the work’s awe and mystery and highlighted its compelling dissonances, dal Lal’s use of dynamic color moving from fragile piano to a scintillating, silvery and exciting choral sound. One of the evening’s high points was the Chamber Choir’s performance of the “Plorate Filii Israel” (Weep, you children of Israel) the expressive lament ending Giacomo Carissimi’s (1605-1674) most famous oratorio “Jepthe”. Against an effective organ (Schupak) and ‘cello (Gregory Yanovsky) setting, the sopranos floated their melodic strands with weightless ease over and through Carissimi’s well-crafted imitative polyphony, the piece’s tragedy, grief and suffering heightened via the work’s multiple suspensions.

Moving away from sacred music, Cantabile and the Chamber Choir, conducted by Vinokurov, took the audience into the world of secular song of an Italian flavor with D.Bollati’s “La Mammoletta” (Shrinking Violet). The presence of two mandolins (Yulia Sinievsky, Sarah Taylor) added charm and delicacy to this friendly, sweetly sentimental song. With Umberto Giordano’s (1867-1948) “O Pastorelle, Addio” (Now is the time for parting) we had launched into the genre of operatic choruses, this section concluding the concert. In this graceful song, from “Andrea Chénier”, an opera focusing on the life of the poet Andrea Chénier, the wealthy Countess di Coigny is hosting a ball, the entertainment being an 18th century pastorale. Cantabile and the Chamber Choir, some of their women members hiding behind Venetian masks, created the piece’s mood, the harp (Sara Shemesh) adding magic and sparkle to the singers’ velvety choral timbre. Sung by the collective Oratorio Choir under the baton of Ofer dal Lal and accompanied by players of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, we then heard a selection of well-known opera choruses, the majority by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Performed with verve and spirit, these pieces provided hearty choral fare and much orchestral say, from the devil-may-care “Tarantella” from “The Force of Destiny” and “La Vergine degli Angeli” (The virgin of the angels), its solo sung exquisitely by Kosyatova, to the expressive, sweeping- yet disturbingly underlying melancholy of the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” (Nabucco). Two poignant choruses from Pietro Mascagni’s (1863-1945) “Cavalleria Rusticana” (Rustic Chivalry) completed the bill.

A great deal of serious and painstaking musical work had clearly been invested into the preparation of this concert, the result of which was pleasing amateur choral singing of a high standard. Singers were confident, expressive and articulate, their collective choral sound well shaped and clean, at the same time, both rich and transparent. The concert, providing hearty enjoyment to those attending, was a credit to Oratorio’s conductors and singers alike.

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