Concert review: Vocal ensemble Voces8

Abu Ghosh Festival Sacred Vocal Music Kiryat Ye’arim Church September 29.

European sacred music, performed by mostly Israeli musicians in a Christian church of an Arab village – this is the unique formula that makes the Abu Ghosh Festival an imitation-deserving model of cultural coexistence.
The highlight of the festival’s opening day was the vocal ensemble Voces8 from London.
Voices sounding as though hand-picked for sheer vocal beauty, perfect transparency of intricate contrapuntal textures, extreme cohesion, as well as impeccable accuracy and mutual attentiveness, characterized voice culture of the highest level.
Sacred music such as pieces by Gibbons, Byrd and Monteverdi were rendered with the same polish and loving attention as secular pieces like Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria.”
Schubert’s “Erlkoenig” in particular, with Comedian-Harmonists- like vocal imitation of the piano, was a masterpiece of refined performance.
Tongue-in-cheek British humor wherever appropriate and an amusing choreography provided the finishing touch.
Brahms’s German Requiem was an ambitious undertaking for the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir, conducted by Hanna Tzur. It was way beyond the capabilities of this choir. True, all the notes were precisely where they belonged – but this is a basic requirement, not an artistic achievement. There was too much shouting in the choir, especially in the higher registers of the sopranos, which frequently became grating on the ear. Gradual increasing or decreasing nuances of dynamics were conspicuous by their absence between an almost continuous mezzoforte and a melodramatic fortissimo.
Enunciation was mostly ununderstandable, even for native German speakers, when not resorting to the printed text. The work’s most significant element was missing – sensitivity.
Of the chiaroscuro, so characteristic of Brahms, conveying the mystery of human life, death and resurrection, nothing was left. It was substituted by the glaring daylight of the Israel hamsin sun.
The work’s two-piano version may have saved the trouble of recruiting an orchestra but hardly rendered a service to either Brahms or the audience.
Convenience was thus achieved at the expense of the essential instrumental tone colors. Moreover, Gaby Argov and Nadia Weintraub did a lot of banging on the pianos, especially for the singers’ solos, which were consequently rendered all but inaudible.
Sharon Dvorin’s soprano sounded bright and clear but too strained and assertive on the high notes. Meanwhile, Jacob Bash displayed an appealing, sonorous baritone and an enjoyable, intelligent rendering of the text.