The Peace of Jerusalem
Jerusalem was the common denominator of 22 pieces ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century, presented by the Phoenix Ensemble directed by Myrna Herzog.
Respect and love for the capital by gentile and Jewish composers alike do not necessarily make the most effective program - one that should be streamlined as well as diversified. The risk of becoming monotonous was skillfully avoided by placing attractive vocal pieces between the instrumental ones.
There were many veritable gems in this selection, such as Renaissance and Baroque settings of "O pray for the peace of Jerusalem" by William Child, John Blow and Charles King. Michal Okon stole the show with her lovely, clear soprano and her excellent voice culture.
Nostalgia got its inevitable due with Avigdor Hame'iri's "From the summit of Mt. Scopus" and Naomi Shemer's hymn-like "Jerusalem of Gold." And 40 years later, singer Shuly Nathan has miraculously retained her voice's clarity and youthful-sounding freshness.
The ensemble's playing of period instruments was thoroughly professional and reliable.
Presenting an all-Russian program, the Russian Borodin Quartet (Ruben Aharonian, Andrei Abramenkov, Igor Naidin, Vladimir Balshin) may have caused some eyebrow-raising at first for such blatant musical patriotism.
Listening to Borodin's and Miaskovsky's quartets, however, settled any concerns. One even felt a sense of gratitude to these musicians for offering these almost unknown, though immensely valuable works. Borodin, better known for his theatrical, folk-music-inspired opera "Prince Igor" in his "Quartet Nr. 2," turned out to be more introverted and lyrical than expected, agreeably yet not conventionally Romantic, and not demonstratively Russian in style; so too with Miaskovsky's "Quartet Nr. 13." One felt definitely enriched by this welcome opportunity to become acquainted with these works.
The program's highlight, though, was Shostakovich's "Quartet Nr. 8." The rendition of this magical work was nothing less than overwhelming. The degree of intensity, maturity and sensitivity achieved by these outstanding musicians was profoundly gripping, and created a rarely encountered musical experience.