In the footsteps of Betty Knut

The Ra’anana Symphonette presented the history of this dynamic woman who lived only 38 years – and made her story come alive.

By SARAH HERSHENSON
January 21, 2019 10:05
3 minute read.
THE WARM, velvet voice of mezzo soprano Yonit Tobi was a perfect vehicle for Edith Piaf songs

THE WARM, velvet voice of mezzo soprano Yonit Tobi was a perfect vehicle for Edith Piaf songs. (photo credit: ILAN BASOR)

 
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The name Betty Knut is not well known. Also relatively unknown are her “footsteps” as a war correspondent during WWII as a member of the French underground and her role as a doyenne of the arts in Paris and in the early days of the State of Israel.

The Ra’anana Symphonette presented the history of this dynamic woman who lived only 38 years – and made her story come alive.
From the moment Keren Kagarlitsky, the conductor in residence of the RSO, raised her capable and graceful hands, inspiring the gossamer sounds of Fantasy on Russian Themes for Violin and Orchestra by Rimsky-Korsakov to fill the hall, one knew this would be a fine concert. The violin solo, superbly played by Nitai Zori, concertmaster of the RSO, opens with melodies reminiscent of the Russian and oriental melodies of Sheherezade, and sets the stage for tracing Betty Knut’s Russian ancestry, beginning with the composer Alexander Scriabin, a music contemporary of Rimsky-Korsakov, and the husband of Betty Knut’s grandmother, Tatania.

The music and story then segue to Paris, where Betty’s mother Ariadne moved between the Great Wars. This was the time when Paris was the cultural magnet for Jewish composers and artists fleeing Russia during the revolution. The music in this episode spotlights French Chansons, the music written for and sung by Edith Piaf, and Pulenc’s Priez pour Paix (Prayer for Peace), finely sung by one of the stars of the evening, Yaniv d’Or.

Betty Lazarus Knut was born in 1928. Her mother Ariadne was a member of the French underground “Jewish Army,” whose mission was to rescue as many Jews as possible. However, Vichy officials exposed her cover during the war and she was shot to death.

Betty continued her mother’s work, joining the allied forces and working as a war correspondent, who crossed the Rhine into Germany with General Patton. After the war, she was involved in espionage and worked for the establishment of the State of Israel.

Her last stop after the war was Beersheba, where she and her husband Leon Helmann took a house, as she wrote, “which is small and provincial, without magic, yet I love it.” There they lived with their three children. During the day it was a regular home; at 9 p.m., it became a club called the “Last Chance.” Small Beersheba and the “Last Chance” soon became a favorite meeting place for artists, musicians, and poets.

THE RSO program followed the form of narrative, followed by music, which could lend itself to being tiresome. However, the evening stayed fresh and exciting due to the excellence of the musicians and singers.

The warm and velvet voice of mezzo soprano Yonit Tobi was a perfect vehicle for the Edith Piaf songs, which she sang beautifully without the emotional hysterics often associated with the singer.

Another delight of the evening was the unique voice of countertenor Yaniv d’Or. The range of a countertenor is wide, and rises into the range of a contralto/mezzo. Without strain, each of his songs demonstrated the classically trained and clear quality of his voice twined with beauty of expression.

Multi-talented Andy Feldbau at the piano was excellent, both as an accompanist and soloist in performance of Scriabin Preludes, of which the second was more successful in adventuresome interpretation.

Kudos to narrator Yonatan Keret and to Keren Kagarlitsky, who devised the order of the program and sensitively orchestrated selections such as Beau Soir, by Claude Debussy. Keret capably delivered the narrative of Betty Knut’s story. However, to this listener’s ears, the narrative could have been shortened or condensed in order to be better understood and captivate the listener.

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