The Israel Camerata opened its latest season with a world premiere, British composer John Tavener's "Prayer for Jerusalem." The piece was performed by the women of Germany's Chorus Musicus Koeln, who were conducted by Christoph Spering.
The piece's poignancy lies in the seeming simplicity of its structure. God's name is repeated over and over in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic in ostinato form, at first calmly by all the women of the choir and then in a powerful outcry by the sopranos. The accompanying strings provide a contrasting, multi-voiced texture, and the chanting eventually subsides, softly sung at its conclusion by the choir's altos. The force of the work gradually accumulates, effectively conveying the intensity of a faithful worshiper's prayers.
Spering and the Cologne choir deserve additional credit for choosing to present Buxtehude's "The Lord Is with Me" cantata. One of the many enchanting works by this composer, it's often unjustifiably neglected because of the formidable shadow cast over Buxtehude by his better-known near-contemporaries, including Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.
Bach's "Magnificat" is always a pleasure to hear, and it was this time as well, despite not containing even the slightest connection to the concert's overly grand title, "Jerusalem." Spering's brisk tempo injected a refreshing vitality into the work - a welcome change from the pompous mock-solemnity that the Romantic tradition has artificially imposed on Bach.
The Cologne choir produced a mellow, well-balanced sound, singing with commitment and accuracy. The soloists, unfortunately, couldn't quite match the choir's superb overall performance. - Ury Eppstein
Beer Sheva Conservatory
The Israel Sinfonietta launched its 2006-2007 season in style, with an impressive opening concert that joined voices and instruments in works ranging from the Baroque to a contemporary Israeli offering.
Now in his second season, Sinfonietta musical director Doron Salomon has clearly forged a creative bond with his performers, a connection that reveals itself in performances that sounded unforced and confident.
A concertino of soloists on horns, oboes and bassoon joined the Sinfonietta strings section for a tasteful rendition of Handel's "Water Music," very much a treat in the parched Negev.
Another of the night's pieces, Aharon Harlap's 1999 song cycle "Pictures from the Private Collection of God" is based on poems by Jacob Barzilai. It debuted in an orchestral adaptation for soprano, oboe and strings, with Barzilai, whose texts are tinged with his memories of the Holocaust, reading his moving poems from the stage before the performance.
Harlap's work is evocative, original and beautiful, synthesizing American Neo-Romanticism, Yiddish music, Klezmer and Israeli styles in an atmosphere all its own. The form is effectively paced, and was sustained here with varied, unobtrusive ostenati on the strings. The piece's vocal line was performed with quality and commitment by soprano Sivan Rotem, while a melismatic oboe accompaniment was skillfully provided by Yoel Lifshitz.
Beethoven's Mass in C, Op 86, one of the composer's less frequently performed pieces, concluded the program. The 40 singers of the Kfar Saba Chamber Choir navigated the Mass's surprisingly contrapuntal textures with confidence and concentration, producing a sound that was warm and clear. The choir's timbre blended nicely with that of the Sinfonietta.
Also performing was a quartet of excellent soloists, among bass Assaf Levitan and the Russian-trained alto Svetlana Sandler, who contributed her rich voice and the sound of experience to the concert. A dark, full-voiced piece by heldentenor Guy Manheim was both a surprise and a delight.
The evening of strong performances proved bittersweet after depressing pre-concert speeches by Beersheba's mayor and the general director of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, both of whom bemoaned the Sinfonietta's ongoing financial woes. - Max Stern