Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Kantorei Sankt Barbara in Jerusalem as guests of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosted the Kantorei Sankt Barbara Chamber Choir in a number of concerts in Israel. From Krakow, Poland, it is an ensemble of mostly young people, established in 2000 as a joint enterprise of the German community at the Church of St. Barbara and the General Consulate of the Republic of Austria, and has become an important part of Krakow’s thriving musical life. Maestro Wieslaw Delimat, its founder and musical director, lectures in organ and choral singing at the Papal Academy of Theology in Krakow and is head of the Archdiocesan Music School and directs the music at St. Mark’s Church in Krakow. The choir’s concert tour to Israel was organized by the Pro Musica Mundi Artistic Association, an organization founded by Krakow musicians in order to promote music in Europe and closer cooperation between musicians from various countries.

The concert on December 27 in Jerusalem, conducted by Maestro David Shemer - musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra - opened with two small instrumental works by Baroque composer, violinist and writer of prose and poetry, Adam Jarzebski (1590-1648). Jarzebski spent from 1612 to 1619 as a violinist in the cappella of the Elector of Brandenburg in Berlin, taking leave in 1615 to travel to Italy to acquaint himself with Italian music. On his return to Poland, the composer seems to have joined the cappella of Sigismund III and, later, of Wladislaw IV. His oeuvre, exclusively instrumental, 27 chamber compositions for two, three and four instruments with basso continuo, collected in 1629 under the title of “Canzoni e Concerti”, is an important body of Polish Baroque repertoire. Showing the influence of Italian composers of the time, each piece consists of one movement made up of a number of short, contrasting sections. Jarzebski’s “Sentinella” and “Canzon Seconda”, scored for strings and organ, provided a pleasurable aperitif to the evening’s musical fare.

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c.1665-1734) studied at the universities of Prague and Vienna and was ordained as a priest in Krakow in 1692. After a short stint in Chelmno lecturing in rhetoric and poetry as well as conducting the local orchestra, he returned to Krakow, where he spent the rest of his life as a priest and musician in the Wawel Cathedral there. It stands to reason, therefore, that much of Gorczycki’s output is sacred music, some in the highly contrapuntal stile antico style and some in the later concertante style. The “Completorium”, possibly his most important work, scored for choir, soloists and instrumental ensemble, is of the latter style. The Completorium, the last of the seven daily services of worship, consists mainly of Psalms, the doxology and an anthem. The work is constructed as a kind of choral collage, with the voices of the four soloists intertwined in most movements, both as soloists and as a quartet. Young Polish soprano Jolanta Kowalska has a stable and attractive voice and was sparing in her use of vibrato. Israeli baritone Assif Am-David was articulate and expressive; Israeli tenor David Nortman shone with his beautiful vocal color. Polish alto Agnieszka Monasterska, who lectures in vocal performance at the Krakow Academy of Music, had presence and the audience enjoyed her authentic alto timbre. The choir, itself, makes good use of consonants, is attentive to the finest detail and each vocal section sings as one person. A highly disciplined choir, it places emphasis on blending rather than on showy performance. Their singing of the “Te Lucis”, with its mysterious opening, was spiritual and moving.
“To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favor, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.”

The final work in the evening’s concert was J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Mass in G minor BWV 235, composed in Leipzig in 1735. This is one of four Lutheran masses composed by Bach, all shorter than the Catholic mass, all four borrowing from previous works of the composer. (Actually, they are all incomplete settings of the Ordinary of the Catholic mass and are sung in Latin, so calling them Lutheran Masses is somewhat of a misnomer.) Vocal soloists were Agnieszka Monasterska, David Nortman and Assif Am-David. In the Qui Tollis, a movement scored for tenor, bassoon, organ and oboe obbligato, Nortman’s musicality, fine diction and rich, warm timbre were set off by Magdalena Karolak’s pleasing oboe sections. In the Domine Fili, Monasterska guided the listener through the text, gliding through melismas with ease, the darker colors and lights of her voice delighting the audience. There were lovely moments in the Gratias, but it seems too low-placed for Am-David’s voice. The choir was velvety, with phrasing and textures clear and transparent. Their singing was modest and somewhat too understated to make for an exciting performance. Shemer brought out the instrumental interest of the work.

“Bach and the Voices of Poland” Program 1
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
David Shemer-musical director
Kantorei Sankt Barbara
Wieslaw Delimat-conductor
Jolanta Kowalska (Poland) –soprano
Agnieszka Monasterska (Poland) –alto
David Nordman-tenor
Assif Am-David-baritone
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, YMCA Jerusalem
December 27, 2008

On January 1, 2009, The Kantorie Sankt Barbara, under conductor Wieslaw Delimat, performed a concert of mostly a cappella works: sacred works from the Middle Ages to the 20th century as well as a selection of Polish Christmas carols.

In 1580, Renaissance composer, singer, flautist and trumpeter Mikolaj Gomolka (1535-c.1609) published settings of all 150 Psalms in the Polish language, of which the choir sang three. We also heard two motets by Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorkzycki (1667-1734), a Gregorian chant – “Mother of God” and two pieces by the very prolific Stanislaw Wiechowicz (1893-1963), a composer very involved in promoting the art of choral singing in Poland. In Anton Bruckner’s (1824-1896) antiphon “Tota pulchra es Maria” in Phrygian mode for tenor, chorus and organ, we heard tenor Zygmunt Magiera interacting with the choir in an impassioned and moving performance, his control over the “piano” sections impressive.

The choir presented a number of works of the 20th century. Especially interesting were Andrzej Koszewski’s (b.1922) “Blessed be, o Splendid Princess” with its interesting layering, held notes and clear reference to medieval polyphony and Romuald Twardowski’s ((b.1930) tonal and scintillating “Alleluja” an eight-voiced motet for mixed choir.

Maestro Delimat, introducing the Christmas carols in the last part of the program, explained that these songs, centering on the theme of peace, are known to all Poles and are sung within the family circle. The first carol was “God is Born”, arranged by conductor Wlodzimierz Siedlik. A strophic, homophonic song on a simple harmonic scheme, Siedlik’s setting does not lose site of the folk origins of the carol. It was performed with joy and with warmth.

Several of the carols sung were imaginative arrangements by composer Henryk Jan Botor (b.1960), who teaches piano and organ improvisation at the Krakow Academy of Music. In “Come, Shepherds, to the Stable” there were some interesting vocal background effects as well as rhythms suggesting a donkey ride. “The Shepherds Ran to Bethlehem” is a piece for voice and piano. Young tenor Zygmunt Magiera’s performance of it was brilliant yet delicate and sincere.

Well-known choral conductor Stefan Stuligrosz (b.1920) has researched choral music and singing; his oeuvre consists of over 600 sacred choral works and 100 arrangements of Polish and other carols. In his strophic “Sleep Little Jesus”, soprano Izabela Szota gave an emotional and highly colored performance.

The Kantorei Sankt Barbara’s a cappella concert presented works not generally heard here in the Israeli concert hall and this repertoire promoted interest and curiosity on the part of the audience. The choir’s performance of Polish sacred music was impressive not just in its humility and conviction but also in the fine detail and dynamics worked into each piece.

Kantorei Sankt Barbara – A Cappella Concert
Wieslaw Delimat-conductor
Izabela Szota-soprano
Zygmunt Magiera-tenor
Piotr Zagorski-organ
The Mary Nathaniel Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA
January 1, 2009

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