Requiem riches with the Israeli Vocal Ensemble

Israeli Vocal Ensemble's repertoire offers much for those who like their music sumptuously textured and definitively melodic.

 ISRAELI VOCAL Ensemble baritone Oded Reich (photo credit: MARIA ROSENBLATT)
ISRAELI VOCAL Ensemble baritone Oded Reich
(photo credit: MARIA ROSENBLATT)

I have a confession to make. I dig Fauré’s Requiem. Yes, of course, Mozart’s is supremely stirring and lyrical, and the eulogical works by, say, Berlioz or Britten always strum on the heartstrings and set the pulse racing. But, for me, the Fauré hymn to the dear departed tops them all, in particular the 1962 rendition by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra and Choeurs Elisabeth Brasseur, presided over by conductor André Cluytens and featuring unparalleled soprano Victoria de los Ángeles.

So, I was more than a little excited to note the composition is due to close the proceedings of the forthcoming concerts by the Israeli Vocal Ensemble (IVE) scheduled for Friday (St. Vincent de Paul Church, Mamilla Mall, 11 a.m.), February 13 (Ra’anana Performing Arts Center, 8:30 p.m.) and February 14 (Tel Aviv Museum, 8:30 p.m.). The latter will also be broadcast online.

The repertoire offers much for those who like their music sumptuously textured and definitively melodic, with Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine setting the ball rolling. The Fauré works sandwich a piece of a very different cultural nature, with six Native American songs by 20th century Argentine composer Carlos Guastavino. Ethnic baggage contrast notwithstanding lyricism and mellifluousness flow creamily through the entire program.

Yuval Benozer will be on the conductor’s podium, with Oded Reich and Guy Pelc sharing the baritone vocal soloist slot. Tom Ben Ishai is the featured soprano and Raviv Leibzirer will play piano and symphonic organ. The concerts offer local audiences a rare opportunity to catch the rich tones of the latter instrument, the only one of its kind in Israel. The pipe organ was in popular use in secular auditoria, as opposed to churches, across the United States and United Kingdom in the first three decades of last century.

Reich says he will certainly take the instrument into account, in approaching his role in the two Fauré works, as he does with all instrumental lineups. “It is like the difference between singing an aria with a piano or an orchestra. In addition to the sound balance between an orchestra and a soloist, which changes dramatically when there is a keyboard instrument involved, the colors and dynamics are also different.” In the case of the forthcoming series that is even more pertinent, “When you are talking about the use of a real organ another critical element comes into the picture, and that is the response time of the playing. The sound is not audible at exactly the same time as the key is pressed. That naturally impacts on the singing and may elongate the beat and response,”

THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble. (credit: DAVID EVEN-CHEN)THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble. (credit: DAVID EVEN-CHEN)

Thirtysomething Reich is already a seasoned veteran with, for example, numerous productions with the Israeli Opera under his belt, and has also collaborated with the IVE on various occasions over the years. “The last time was just before the pandemic broke out,” he recalls. “I appeared in two concert series with them, as a soloist, in the oratorio of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, and [some of] Bach’s cantatas.” Things, apparently, went well. “It was a wonderful experience. I think it would be very accurate to say that this is the best ensemble of vocalists in Israel, and my connection with Yuval has always been excellent.”

Reich is also delighted to have another opportunity to perform works by Fauré. It has, he says, been a long and enduring love affair for him. As well, he got a heads up, of sorts, on the forthcoming series. “I got to know Fauré’s music – how else? – as a singer in a choir of 16 year old kibbutz youth. We sang Cantique de Jean Racine. I fell in love [with Fauré’s music] from that moment.

There is something in his infinite lyricism, the combination of surprising harmonies, but with a very logical and predictable structure. His songs are simply perfect.”

That also goes for the Requiem. “The Requiem is a form of perfection,” Reich purrs, “in particular the choral parts. Fauré addresses the ideas of death and infinity, paints the light and faith with shades that are fundamentally non-religious, rather they are simply and human.” Despite the voluminous spread of performers who will be on the stage in the series, Reich believes there will be a snug ambiance to the concerts. “Performing his Requiem is very similar to performing a song. It is very intimate and personal. It is not larger than life, or overdramatic. That is why the organ version works so well.”

REICH DID not dither too long over his career choices. 

“I come from a very musical home, where we sang and played music,” he states. “My mother was a music therapist for many years and I started playing piano as a child.” 

That was beefed up at the Kabri Manor Junior High School he attended, in the Western Galilee. 

“I studied, as a pianist, in the music department, and that was where I was introduced to choral music and vocal music.”

The legacy of that robust start to his musical pathway still resonates across the globe, even though Reich is no longer involved. 

“In 11th grade, together with my classmate Elam Rotem, I established a male vocal ensemble called Profeti della Quinta, which is very popular around the world.” 

Reich received some singing training in 12th grade before putting his musical endeavor on hold for around five years, during and after his military service.

His instrumental backdrop, he says, filters into his vocals. “Playing the piano has had a profound effect on my singing. First, there is the ability to sit down and study the music, down to its minutiae, as the composer intended and, of course, to do so independently. Possibly the greatest benefit of playing the piano is the harmonic understanding and the ability to understand why a musical progression affects the soul in one way or another.”

As well, Reich says he has always preferred to keep his musical options open.

“Even though it seems people expect an opera singer to listen to opera from a young age, I was never like that. Besides the classical music I played, I hardly listened to classical music. My great love was always The Beatles, and there are Yoni Rechter and Mati Caspi, and also Mozart – primarily instrumental works.”

That may have been Reich’s listening starter but things began to get more serious once he began accruing some hands-on experience in the craft. “Of course everything started to change once I was exposed to vocal and choral music,” he explains.

Operatic work and, naturally, the Requiem in question, require the singer to articulate textual material and Reich says he pays great attention to lyrics, regardless of the genre. He says he basically wants to feel stirred by what he hears. 

“The majority of the time I don’t necessarily listen to classical music, rather to music that touches me. The music does not have to pertain to a precise definition of indie rock or folk-blues, although that is a genre I like a lot.”

Personal chemistry also comes into the equation. 

“Often my liking for an artist comes from close or distant acquaintance, or as the result of a particular encounter with their music that connects me to a specific moment in my life. Overall, I am open to all kinds of music and, in recent years, the words have become increasingly meaningful.”

There are certainly some emotive lyrics in Fauré’s Requiem, albeit in Latin. However, the score is so emotive and evocative that even those of us not well-versed in the ancient language can feel deeply moved.

For tickets and more information call (074) 701-2112 or visit www.nive.co.il