Monday, January 3, 2011

Soprano Enas Massalha and pianist Yael Kareth in a recital at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem

Soprano Enas Massalha and pianist Yael Kareth presented a program titled “Sing a Prayer for Me” on December 26th 2010 in the salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Born in Israel, Enas Massalha, a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, was a member of the Opera Studio-Young Artist program of the Israeli Opera and has worked with the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden. She has performed with the Israel Philharmonic Opera and the Rishon LeZion Symphony Orchestra, with Il Solisti Veneti and the Capella della Pieta de’Turchini. She has performed and recorded Aharon Harlap’s “Psalms and sang with members of the IPO and with Arab musicians in Carnegie Hall (New York).

Jerusalem-born Yael Kareth studied music performance at Tel Aviv University and has been tutored by Murray Perahia in London and Israel. Moving to Berlin, she studied with Daniel Barenboim and Professor Dimitry Bashkirov. She has performed with the IPO, the Tel Aviv Soloists, the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra and other orchestras. Ms. Kareth is a keen chamber musician, has taken part in several chamber music festivals and has broadcast on Israeli radio.

Enas Massalha has spent much time thinking about the prayer theme for a concert. She speaks of prayer as a mood, as personal emotion, as a means of communicating with oneself and one’s life, as a spiritual way of connecting people from different places and of different origins and religions with each other. For this concert, her aim was to choose lesser-known repertoire, to present prayers touching different aspects of life – joy, gratitude, marriage, illness, death, etc.

Following words of welcome by Rector of the Austrian Hospice, Markus Stephan Bugnyar, the event began with Massalha reading prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic as she entered the salon. The musical program opened with “Prayer” by the Swedish pianist, teacher and composer Gunnar de Frumerie (1908-1987). This was followed by the “Quia respexit” (For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden) from J.S.Bach’s “Magnificat” (c.1731), a plangent melody in a minor key, characterized by downward leaps, the musical style chosen by Bach for the aria symbolizing the Virgin Mary’s humility. The artists’ performance of it was somewhat heavy, the texture poorer for the lack of Bach’s beautiful oboe d’amore obbligato part. Massalha’s singing of Gabriel Faure’s “En Priere” (In Prayer) (1890) was intimate, subtle and pleasingly French in its transparency of texture.

Maurice Ravel’s “Kaddish” (actually the Chatzi Kaddish prayer text), composed in 1914, includes traditional Jewish prayer modes and other liturgical themes. A highly challenging work to perform, Massalha and Kareth’s reading of it was deep, prayerful and powerfully moving, its minimal accompaniment lending tension and attention to the Aramaic/Hebrew text.

Opus 8 was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s second collection of songs, all the songs of poets having been translated into Russian by Alexei Plesheyev. In “Prayer” (1893), using a text by Goethe, the last song of the set, a young girl asks forgiveness for rejecting the love of a worthy young man who later dies. Massalha brings out the dramatic aspect of the work, both artists giving shape and contour to phrases and gestures.

Johannes Brahms had referred to his three Intermezzi opus 117, late works composed in 1892, as “lullabies to my sorrows”. (His sister Elise and another close friend had died that year.) Inspiration for the pieces came from a Scottish poem from Herder’s “Volkslieder”. It serves as the preface:
‘Balou my boy, lye still and sleep,
It grieves me sore to hear thee weep’
Yael Kareth performed Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo no.1 in E flat major of opus 117. In the outer sections, she created the typically late Brahmsian atmosphere in which the composer indulges in mellow dreaminess, introspection and melancholy. The middle section is darker and more troubled. Kareth’s playing is tasteful, controlled and understated, at no time becoming over-dramatic or sentimental.

And to the world of opera: “Porgi amor” (Grant, love, some comfort) opens the second act of W.A.Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” (1786), with Countess Almaviva in her boudoir lamenting her husband’s infidelity. Massalha is convincing in her wistful performance of the aria, evoking the countess’s despair. The “Ave Maria” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello” (1887), sung by Desdemona in her final hour, is a prayer for peace from a world turned chaotic by her jealous lover, Otello. Massalha uses her rich palette of dynamics to weave despair into tension. Her creamy legato sound and fine control give the aria a lyrical quality. Kareth’s accompaniment is effective and rich, its bell-like motifs coming to the fore at the end of the aria.

Heartbreak and tragedy are swept away with Samuel Barber’s whimsical “The Monk and his Cat: Pangur, White Pangur” from “Hermit Songs” opus 29 no.8 (1953) to words of W.H.Auden. This jovial, relaxed song compares the daily lives, the eyes and the joys of the two. A charming vignette, the audience delighted in Kareth’s accompaniment in its representation of catlike movements and gestures coupled with Massalha’s humor and lively, feline depiction of the text.

Nouhad Wadi Haddad, better known as Fairouz (b. 1935), a Lebanese singer, is one of the most renowned singers of Arabic music. “Ya Maryam”, a strophic Christmas song from Fairouz’s repertoire, extols Mary’s beauty and greatness, claiming that the light she emanates is stronger than that of both the sun and the moon. Arranged with a western, harmonic accompaniment, Massalha’s singing of it is emotional and involved as she communicates with her audience, her lush low register pleasing.

We heard arrangements of three spirituals. “Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child”, its piano accompaniment a tastefully seasoned with blues chords, was followed by an exuberant rendering of “Ride On, King Jesus”, with Massalha sailing into her high tessitura with ease, power and fine diction. In “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” she engaged the audience to join her in song.

The concert ended on a calm note with Hugo Wolf’s “Gebet” (Prayer) (1888) to a text of Eduard Moerike. The artists created a sense of calm intimacy, taking the listener into the realm of inner thoughts, of uncomplicated faith. The piano part, harmonized with economy, added countermelodies to support and second the supplicant’s request for “the middle way”.
‘Send what You will, my Lord,
May it be love or sorrows!
I am content that both
From Thy dear hands do pour….’

Enas Massalha and Yael Kareth presented a superb and varied evening of music rich in ideas and styles at a venue known for its many artworks and musical events, the Austrian Hospice characterized by its interest in dialogue between cultures and religions.

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