The Ratisbonne Institute's organ, built in 1894, has at last been restored to its former glory by the Italian instrument builder Michel Formentelli after many years of languishing in total disrepair.
The restored instrument was presented Monday in a concert by the Italian organist Sauro Argalia, who, accompanied by soprano Maria Cecilia Marinelli and violist Laura Pennesi, performed in the presence of dignitaries from Italy who had come for the occasion. The program featured works from the Italian and French Romantic repertoire of the 19th and early 20th centuries - pieces best suited for this instrument.
In Formentelli's solo pieces, the organ swept the space powerfully with a rich, colorful sound, especially in Caesar Franck's "Grand Choeur." Yet it also retained a discreet balance with the rather small hall's acoustics. Delicate toned colors of flutes and voix celeste in the high and medium registers were highlighted in pieces by Bossi and Dubois.
Pennesi's viola blended harmoniously with the organ in pieces by Guidi, Liviabella, Guilmant and Boelmann, proving that this organ can function well also in chamber music.
The bright, radiant soprano of Marinelli was most enjoyable in Puccini's Requiem. Here she apparently felt free to relieve herself of the dramatic constraints she unnecessarily imposed on her voice in the more operatic "Ave Maria" and "Salve Regina" by Mascagni and Puccini.
The organ works were preceded by choral pieces, performed by the Ratisbonne Choir and conducted by Aurelio Mule. The choir, mostly in unison, sounded well-trained, and identified with the sacred music and texts. The Olive Branches Choir from Bethlehem, also scheduled to take part in the performance, was prevented from crossing the Green Line, despite having applied for permission well ahead of time. The international audience reacted with civilly restrained disappointment.
Now that Jerusalem has an organ right in its city center, we can look forward to its playing a significant part in the capital's musical life.