Monday, October 12, 2009

Sun and Stars - Feast and Devotion in Baroque Peru - Abu Gosh Festival October 2009

Dr. Myrna Herzog’s program of Peruvian music “Sun and Stars: Feast and Devotion in Baroque Peru” was premiered at the Kyriat Yearim Church October 7th 2009, the opening day of the 36th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. His Excellency, the Peruvian ambassador to Israel, was among the honored guests. The PHOENIX Ensemble, performing on historical instruments, was conducted by Herzog, the group’s founder and musical director. Joining them was the Oratorio Chamber Choir (Ronen Borshevsky-musical director.) Soloists were sopranos Michal Okon and Anat Edri, countertenor Alon Harari and baritone Assif Am-David.

The program consisted of music from cathedrals and Jesuit missions – the music of Indians, Blacks, Spaniards and Creoles – and it included a Mass, Peruvian folk songs and a Salve Regina. We heard a Magnificat by Tomas de Torrejon y Velasco (1644-1728), a Spanish composer and organist who spent most of his life in Peru. Herzog, working together with Uri Dror, who transcribed the manuscript into a score, created a modern edition of Velasco’s work, basing the score on the original 15 vocal parts. This was the Israeli premiere of the Magnificat. The program ended with “Release the Little Black Bull”, a colorful musical depiction of a bullfight by Spanish composer Diego de Salazar (1660-1709). The concert was a moving kaleidoscope of choral, instrumental and solo textures, with soloists sometimes singing alone, at others, as a quartet, the choir mostly interpolating and producing antiphonal effects.

With the choir lined along both sides of the hall, the scene was set with the haunting, devotional sounds of the anonymous processional “Hanacpachap Cussicuinin” (1631).
‘O tree bearing thrice-blessed fruit,
Heaven’s joy!
A thousand times shall we praise you.
O hope of humankind,
Helper of the weak,
Hear our prayer.’

Rhythms were mostly triple, lilting and dance-like. Much interest was created by the mix of instrumention: in Velasco’s “A este sol peregrino”, a bailete (a sacred dance for the Feast of St. Peter), the combination of plucked instruments (Omer Schonberger) and maracas (Rony Iwryn) was magical. In “Tonada del Chimo”, a sacred Peruvian song in the Mochika language, we were exposed to the bare, powerful texture of Herzog bowing a drone on the rabel together with the dull thud of a drum, setting off Am-David’s singing and the unison interpolations of the choir (the congregation.).

Yizhar Karshon’s organ solo – Valencian composer and organist Juan Baptista Cabanilles’ (1644-1712) quite startling “Ligaduras de tercero tono para la Elevacion” - provided contrast to the program’s choral works. Karshon’s forthright, secure playing was clean and thought-provoking, the harmonic- and melodic twists and turns peculiar to Cabanilles not camouflaged by an over-abundance of ornaments.

At another moment, the almost visual scene of an expansive, bare South American landscape was created by the combination of rabel (Herzog), harpsichord (Karshon) and violone (Dara Bloom) joined by recorder (Adi Silberberg) and drum (Rony Iwryn). Iwryn is a brilliant artist, his playing delicate and tasteful. Providing a firm basis to the ensemble was the double-reed band, led by Alexander Fine. Shai Kribus played a shawm, while Fine, Barbara Schmutzler and Daniel Nester were playing dulcians built for Fine by Laurent Verjat (Paris.) Well worth a mention is the Baroque charango (a small South American stringed instrument of the lute family) built in Brazil especially for the Peruvian program and played by Omer Schonberger.

Myrna Herzog’s selection of artists constitutes an important element of preparing PHOENIX performances. Veteran PHOENIX players were joined by younger, inspired up-and-coming musicians. Members of the Oratorio Chamber Choir contributed much to the detail and fluency of the works in hand. Their signature sound is bright. The soloists sang well as a quartet, their phrasing pleasing. Soprano Michal Okon’s musicianship is totally solid: her voice is silvery and resonant, ringing through the hall with clarity. A convincing artist, Assif Am-David utilizes the warmth of his voice to always go that bit further in order to communicate the text’s message and emotion to his audience. Countertenor Alon Harari’s (b.1982) solos were superb – he flows with the tempo, his vocal color is velvety and reliable, his phrases crafted and he ornaments with ease.

Brazilian-born Myrna Herzog has introduced Israeli audiences to various kinds of South American music, to its flavors, its instruments and to its all-out exuberance. “Sun and Stars” was stirring and moving, bringing together a host of good artists in a fine performance.

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