Saturday, May 10, 2008

Concert for Life and Peace

The Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theater was abuzz with excitement in anticipation of the annual concert “For Life and Peace, from Bethlehem and Jerusalem” December 23. The same concert had been given the previous evening in Bethlehem. It is rare and uplifting to see such a wide mix of people at a concert in Jerusalem. Produced and organized by Rino Maenza and promoted by the Association for Life and Peace in collaboration with other organizations, including the Italian Senate, these concerts are a gesture of friendship, solidarity and peace of the Italian Institutions towards the people of the Holy Land.

After greetings by members of the Italian delegation as well as by Israelis, we were more than eager to hear the illustrious “Solisti Veneti” conducted by Claudio Scimone in a program of short works. Scimone founded this “boutique” orchestra in 1959 and most of the evening’s soloists were from the orchestra. Other soloists featured were three magnificent singers: Argentinian soprano Paula Almerares, Israeli-born Enas Messalha and Israeli Orit Gabriel.

G.F.Haendel’s (1685-1759) spirited French-style Overture to the “Messiah” opened the program. This was followed by two pieces by J.J.Mouret (1682-1738) for trumpet and orchestra. Roberto Rigo’s trumpet solos were brilliant, dynamic and ornamented in the best style of Baroque playing. His playing was a breath of fresh air! We then heard A. Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in D major for mandolin and strings, with Ugo Orlandi as soloist. This may sound like “mission impossible” in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, but we heard every nuance of this delicate instrument; Scimone had his orchestra listening to Orlandi and still producing dynamic contrasts.

Soprano Paula Almerares performed “Rejoice Greatly” from Haendel’s Messiah. Almerares sings with ease, has a vocal rich color and plenty of stage presence. With her tense and virtuoso rendition of P.Mascagni’s (1863-1945) “Ave Maria” for Soprano and Strings, she held the audience in the palm of her hand and her singing of W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) “Exultate Jubilate was detailed and exciting.

Violinist Lucio Degani, a member of the orchestra, was soloist in N.Paganini’s (1782-1840) Variations on the Prayer Theme from Rossini’s “Moses in Egypt”. This is a technically challenging and entertaining concert piece and Degani played it impressively, which is not surprising after one has heard Il Solisti Veneti’s fine string section. Also based on “Moses in Egypt” we heard G.A.Rossini’s (1792-1868) own Variations in E flat Major for Clarinet and Strings with Lorenzo Guzzoni playing the solo. Guzzoni‘s sound and versatility are magical and his lively personality put a smile on faces in the audience.

Orit Gabriel performed the “Qui sedes ad dexteram” for mezzo soprano and strings from Haendel’s “Gloria”. Involved in both lyric opera and Jewish music, Gabriel has a very earthy, real color to her voice. This was also evident in her emotional rendering of Israeli M.Gavrielov’s “Hachnissini”.

“Quia respexit humilitatem” forSoprano, Oboe and Strings from J.S.Bach’s Magnificat was sensitively performed by Enas Massalha and oboist Paolo Grazia. The richness of expression and interaction of both artists took one’s breath away. Massalha also performed “Lailat Al-Milad” a popular Christmas piece written by the Lebanese priest, Father Labaki. It was sung unaccompanied; the audience was moved..

With Christmas a day away, we heard F.X.Gruber’s “Silent Night” sung by all three singers, each verse in a different language. This was a concert with a message as well as a chance to hear the magnificent “I Solisti Veneti”. This is truly an orchestra of soloists and Scimone, in all humility, gives his players and soloists the stage.

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem,
Concert for Life and Peace.
“I Solisti Veneti”
Claudio Scimone-conductor
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theater
December 23, 2007

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