Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Choral Fantasy" Festival features Barrocade, the Gary Bertini Choir and soloists

A new Jerusalem festival - “Choral Fantasy” - offered a variety of choral concerts, most of which took place at the Jerusalem International YMCA from November 1st to November 3rd 2012.  Haggi Goren was festival director, with Maestro Stanley Sperber as musical advisor. In addition to conventional concerts, there was a Jerusalem walking tour for the energetic, a teatime concert of “Love, Passion and Longing” (The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble) and a cabaret evening under the direction of Yuval Cohen, the latter for the night owls among us. All the choirs, soloists and conductors taking part were Israelis, bringing home the fact that Israel harbors an abundance of local musical talent and on a high level. Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Pepe Alalu welcomed the project, one of its objectives being to provide more weekend cultural activities in the capital. School children students and soldiers were admitted to events free of charge.

The “Baroque Highlights” program, November 2nd, featured the Barrocade Ensemble, soloists and the Gary Bertini Choir, conducted by Ronen Borshevsky. Opening the concert on a festive note, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir (conductor - Ofer Dellal), singing from the gallery, performed Richard Nicholson’s (c.1563-1638/9) “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”.

The evening’s official program began with the “Gloria” from Giovanni Gabrieli’s (1554/1557-1612) “Sacrae Symphoniae” (1597), of the polychoral repertoire originally performed in the San Marco Cathedral of Venice, with choirs (vocal and instrumental) placed at different locations within the church to maximize the echo effect of the cori spezzati style. With members of the Gary Bertini Choir standing either side of the Barrocade players, the imitation, interweaving and coming together in grand refrains of choirs and instruments of the work came into effect. Yuval Shapiro (early brass) and Yigal Kaminka (Baroque oboe) contributed to the scintillating, luxuriant timbre characterizing Gabrieli’s music and the Venetian style.

Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) verse anthem “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem” was probably performed at the coronation of William and Mary in 1689, its combination of Biblical texts (Psalm 147, Isaiah 49, Psalm 48 and Psalm 21) including those performed at English coronation ceremonies. It was actually the last of Purcell’s symphony anthems. Strings had been included in choral anthems only on royal occasions and, after the coronation, William banned the use of them in the church. With the choir now standing behind the orchestra, the ensemble now comprised of more players for this work. The five soloists on stage were sopranos Einat Aronstein and Shaked Bar, mezzo-soprano Ella Wilhelm, tenor Doron Florentin and baritone Yair Polishook. They were not soloists in the usual sense as the work has no solos or duets; the solo voices, however, blended in a rich vocal mix in both chordal sections and moments of complex counterpoint. With the formal atmosphere turning to one of exultant and joyful utterance, the full forces ended with the exuberant, dancelike “Alleluia” in a decidedly congenial performance.

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) setting of “Lauda Jerusalem” (Psalm 147), a late work, was one of the many written for the Ospedale della Pieta in 1739, the state-funded girls’ orphanage that employed Vivaldi as musical director. Employing double choir and orchestra, the piece takes the form of one long movement. The influence of opera in Venice at the time is reflected in the use of solo voices (the two soprano roles suitable to the fine vocal students of the orphanage). The solo roles were performed by Einat Aronstein (who, at the last moment, had stood in for Barrocade’s Ye’ela Avital who had taken ill) and a new, promising young soprano on the concert scene - Shaked Bar. Aronstein, who, though young, has made her mark in the concert platform, gives deep and emotional meaning to each verbal- and musical gesture, her voice sonorous, pleasing and easeful in its flexibility. Shaked Bar is competent, with good intonation, if not a little more restrained than Aronstein; her creamy fresh timbre is well suited to Baroque music. The two soloists gave expression to the charming soprano interchanges. The double choir effect, also present and richly presented in Barrocade’s dependable instrumental performance, was handled well by the ebullient, fresh voices making up the Gary Bertini Choir. The performance brought home the accessibility of the work and its spiritual – rather than mystical – message.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) Cantata no.147 “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (Heart and Mouth, Deeds and Life) was originally composed in 1716 but revised and expanded to ten movements in Leipzig, where Bach was called upon to provide a cantata each month for services in the Duke’s chapel.  Premiered in 1723, it uses much original poetic text. Opening in a fanfare-like gesture, the elaborate first chorus is a celebration of Bach’s contrapuntal invention. The work provides a fine platform for each of the vocal soloists. Audiences of late have been enjoying the significant development of Tenor Doron Florentin’s warm-, muscular- and richly endowed voice: in two arias, his clear musical plan and vibrant vocal power combined well.

Most commendable were Kaminka’s performance on oboe, oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia and Shapiro’s handling of the trumpet role, the latter doubling the soprano voice in movements 6 and 10, adding extra brightness to the choral setting. Mezzo-soprano Ella Wilhelm’s articulacy and emotional involvement never fail to draw her audience into the music; her singing was partnered with Kamnika’s splendid playing, all to the good of the performance. Baritone Yair Polishook’s gripping performance utilized color and drama, careful phrasing and impressive coloratura. A high point of the work is “Bereite dir, Jesu” (Prepare, Jesus)  - the soprano aria with violin obbligato - with Aronstein’s singing floating with joyful ease above the more intricate triplet violin solo, the latter’s intensity and focus handled pleasingly by Shlomit Sivan Jacobi. With the two identical appearances of the wonderful extended chorale “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”, the audience was again able to enjoy the integrated, thrilling sound of the Gary Bertini Choir, established by Ronen Borshevsky in 2009.

No comments: