Concert Review: Red Army Choir

Charles Bronfman Auditorium, November 5.

ALEXANDROV ENSEMBLE of the Russian Armed forces perform to a full house at the Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
ALEXANDROV ENSEMBLE of the Russian Armed forces perform to a full house at the Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: ELIRAN AVITAL)
Russian melodies are part of Israel’s musical DNA. So many so-called Israeli folk songs are Russian tunes with Hebrew lyrics and can be traced to the cultural baggage brought in by immigrants of the Second Aliya.
Indeed, the bulk of the fullhouse audience at the opening of the Israeli season of the Alexandrov Ensemble of the Russian Armed forces last Thursday at the Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv were elderly immigrants.
They had come to hear evergreen songs like “Katyusha” and “Kalinka” in the original and not in translation, though during the spirited community singing of “Kalinka,” the person to the left of me sang in Hebrew and to the right of me in Russian. As far as the melody was concerned, they were both on the same page.
At the Bronfman Auditorium they’re usually very strict about not letting latecomers into the hall, though they can go up to the fifth-floor gallery where they are less likely to disturb performers on stage. However on Thursday, an exception was made, and latecomers were able to take their seats during the performance, because it was realized that many of them had come by special buses from other parts of the country and had been caught in the chaos of Tel Aviv’s Thursday night traffic.
The choir, its orchestra and its dancers are made up to some extent by talented army cadets.
Now on a world tour, this is the ensemble’s fourth visit to Israel, and judging by the reception they received, they will be back a fifth and a sixth time.
There’s a certain electricity in the hall when the performers and the audience feed off each other, and the repeated standing ovations and sustained applause for truly superb singing, dancing and music made the evening a spectacular experience.
Most of the people around me knew the repertoire by heart, and even though there were no printed programs, they knew exactly what was coming next.
The synchronization of the dancers was perfect, regardless of whether they were leaping across the stage or moving in graceful formation with the tiniest of steps. They changed costumes for every dance routine, and the variety of colors and styles which contrasted so vividly with the drab olive green of the uniforms of the soldiers added to the visual excitement. As is always the case with good Russian dancers, they earned the most applause for doing the splits in the air, or the squat kicks and pirouettes. Break dancing is usually credited to Afro Americans and Puerto Ricans, but what may be closer to the truth is that it is derived from Russian and Ukrainian squat dancing which has very similar, but more refined movements.
The choir with its blend of voices was a perfect backdrop for the soloists whose extraordinary range and ability to hold a high note held the audience in thrall.
It is customary when the Ensemble goes on tour for it to sing at least one song in the language of the host country – and in this case it was “Jerusalem of Gold,” even though the performance was in Tel Aviv.
Unfortunately the Ensemble will not be appearing in Jerusalem, or in most other cities. Its performances in Israel are limited to Tel Aviv and Haifa.