Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Magnificat in Two" - two branches of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir perform Magnificats of Vivaldi and Rutter

Courtesy the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir

“Magnificat in Two” was one of the events of the 2017 Jerusalem Festival of Arts (March 28th-April 4th). The concert, taking place on April 1st in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA, was a joint performance of two branches of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir – the Capellate Choir (conductor: Naama Nazrathy Gordon) and the Oratorio Chamber Choir (conductor: Kate Belshé). Soloists were soprano Shira Cohen and mezzo-soprano Noa Hope. Marina Shaevich accompanied on the piano. Belshé and Nazrathy Gordon alternated in conducting throughout the concert.

The event opened with both choirs proceeding into the hall to the singing of Hanacpachap (1630), an anonymous processional hymn from Cuzco (Peru) in the Quechua language and considered to be the first polyphonic work of the ‘New World’. It was accompanied by drum and ankle bells.

Antonio Vivaldi composed his “Magnificat” around 1715, with later versions penned in the 1720s. Enigmatically designated for two choirs, Vivaldi’s setting of the text is decidedly mono-choral. The Oratorio choirs opened with articulate and festive singing of the “Magnificat anima mea” (My soul glorifies the Lord), as they leaned into the music’s dissonances. In the “Et exultavit” (My spirit rejoices in God), Shira Cohen’s fresh, bright timbre was joined by the rich, smooth singing of mezzo-soprano Noa Hope. This was followed by a velvety- and well-delineated choral reading of the “Et Misericordia” (His mercy is from age to age), its anguished utterance a little understated, with the singers then engaged in the forthright gestures of the “Fecit Potentiam” (He puts forth his arm in strength) finely depicting the mighty as being destroyed and the humble exalted. Addressing details and well-rehearsed, the choir’s singing of Vivaldi’s “Magnificat” reflected the differing moods of the work.  Although Marina Shaevich’s accompaniment was attentive and sensitive, the performance was missing the timbres of the Baroque instrumental ensemble in obbligato passages and, in particular, the plangent timbre of the two oboes.

The Jerusalem event offered a fine opportunity for the audience to familiarize itself with the music of London-born John Rutter (b.1945), one of today’s most prominent and frequently performed composers of sacred vocal music. The work is very upbeat, with some sections popular in style and appeal and others meditative, reflective and exultant.  Rutter uses the traditional text, interpolating some other material. In the opening movement, a vivid mix of vocal colour and influenced by the attractive asymmetrical Latin American Huapango rhythm, the Oratorio singers’ performance was secure, bright and rich, their diction well-defined. In the second movement, Rutter’s more traditionally English, folk-like setting of “Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose”, a 15th century religious poem, the image of the rose, its blossom and branches serve as metaphors for Mary, Jesus and the message of Christmas. The singers presented its word-painting and transparency of texture with pleasing lightness.
Of a rose, a lovely rose
Of a rose is all my song.
Hearken to me both olde and younge,
How this rose began to spring;
A fairer rose to mine liking,
In all this world ne know I none…’
In the “Quia fecit mihi magna” (The Almighty works marvels for me), Rutter now interpolates a Sanctus and introduces the use of plainsong to the work. Then the atmosphere totally changes for the “Et misericordia” (His mercy is from age to age), with Shira Cohen’s expressive, fluid and soothing singing soaring above the choir’s smooth and constantly modulating agenda. With the “Fecit potentiam”, Rutter turns to a terse, intense style, a merging of fugal- and atonal elements, all well-crafted and crisply presented by the singers, then to be contrasted by the tranquil, sweetly sentimental “Esurientes” (He fills the starving with good things), with Cohen’s communicative reflective solo set above delicate choral sounds. Rutter’s final addition to the text occurs in the final movement, as Cohen performs the “Sancta Maria” to a minimal accompaniment, with the work spiralling to a volley of joyful Amens. Taking on a substantial and challenging role, Shira Cohen dealt it with natural musicality and poise. Rutter’s highly-coloured instrumental scorings are either for full orchestra or chamber orchestra. Many trumpet fanfares highlight the work’s festive spirit. Performing it with piano accompaniment is a poor substitute for what the composer had in mind; consider the percussion instruments in his score: timpani, glockenspiel, snare drum, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, tambourine and bongos!


Photo:Marina Vengerov

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