Monday, November 23, 2009

Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opens 2009-2010 Liturgical Series with Haydn and Rossini

Concert no. 1 in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s Liturgical Series consisted of two works – Haydn’s Arianna a Nasso and Rossini’s Stabat Mater. Conducting the JSO was Doron Salomon, with soloists soprano Ira Bertman, mezzo-soprano Rachel Frenkel, tenor Yotam Cohen and baritone Noah Briger. The Israeli Opera Choir (conductor: Yishai Steckler) sang in the Rossini Stabat Mater.

Composed during the period when the composer was musical director and composer-in-residence on the estate of the Esterhazy family, Franz Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) cantata “Arianna a Nasso (1789-1790), exploring the mythological abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus, was a high point in his vocal writing. It was originally scored for voice and harpsichord/piano and orchestrated at a later stage. Haydn had accompanied the Italian countertenor Gasparo Pacchiarotti on the piano in a London recital. Contending well with the orchestra, mezzo-soprano Rachel Frenkel took the audience through the emotional stages of this somewhat operatic piece – from Ariadne’s initial bewilderment to despair. Frenkel has fine dramatic presence, a bold mix of chest- and head voice, vocal ease and an intensity of sound and focus that kept the audience anchored in the pathos of the text. Israeli-born Frenkel has performed solo roles from Baroque to music of the 21st century with several Israeli orchestras. Today she is a member of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin Opera Studio, Germany.

Details of the creative process of Giocchino Rossini’s (1792-1868) Stabat Mater are rather in keeping with the composer’s erratic life. The Stabat Mater and his Petite Messe Solonelle were composed 39 years after Rossini had ceased writing opera, successful as his opera period had been. The fully completed version of the Stabat Mater was premiered in Paris in 1842. Donizetti (who conducted the first Italian performance) wrote “ The enthusiasm is impossible to describe. Even at the first rehearsal, which Rossini attended, in the middle of the day, he was accompanied to his home to the shouting of more than 500 persons.” There has been much discussion as to whether Rossini’s rousing Stabat Mater – the text describes Mary’s sorrow at seeing Jesus dead on the cross – describes the tragic text or whether it is sacred music or not! Rossini, himself had his doubts, being “born for opera buffa, as you know”. Heine, on hearing the work, wrote that the theatre had become a “vestibule of heaven”. Michael Ajzenstadt, in his program notes, mentions that, apart from the opening- and closing movements, the work lacks formal coherence. Yet all the above-mentioned arguments have not prevented this work from being a much-loved piece of concert repertoire, choral and solo lines intertwining, gorgeous melodies, moving a capella sections and uplifting orchestration. Israeli-born conductor Doron Salomon, today musical director and principal conductor of the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva, did not disappoint his audience. From the opening “Stabat mater”, a veritable tour-de-force for choir and soloists, Salomon presented a canvas of crisp-, warm- and expressive orchestral sound, the JSO’s wind sections offering some very fine playing. The florid and richly polyphonic Amen sent the audience home with a firm sense of the uplifting strength of the work..

Salomon chose strong voices to suit the “operatic” style and textures at hand; the many challenging moments for choir and singers alike were surmounted with alacrity. The Israeli Opera Choir is a force to be reckoned with – a large choir of full-bodied voices – confident singers; experienced, they boast a rich palette of colors and are certainly suited to the Rossini work. Yotam Cohen’s strident tenor timbre and forthrightness contrasted with Noah Briger’s more understated performance. The audience enjoyed Ira Bertman’s (b. Latvia, in Israel since 1992) stable, attractive voice and vocal ease and Rachel Frenkel’s compelling reading of the text.

The fact that there was no intermission in the concert allowed for uninterrupted concentration. The JSO’s program notes are interesting and informative (the English could be spruced up). Salomon’s energy and musicianship are infectious and draw together instrumentalists, singers and audience.

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