The program opened with the Shahar Choir’s a-cappella performance of LPigarelli’s arrangement of alpinist Antonio “Toni” Ortelli’s (1904-2000) archetypal alpine song “La Montanara” (Song of the Mountains), somewhat of a stranger among the works of Monteverdi and Vivaldi to follow, but offering a well-anchored and forthright choral starter to the concert. Then, to Venice for the rest of the program with “Lauda Jerusalem” (Praise Jerusalem, Psalm 147), one of the major choruses from Claudio Monteverdi’s iconic “Vespers for the Virgin Mary”. Accompanied by organ and viol, Brill’s direction produced a gripping, high-energy performance, the interest of its individual lines emerging from within the dramatic framework.
The rest of the program consisted of works of Antonio Vivaldi, all the choral pieces sacred, opening with the joyful, responsorial setting of Psalm 113 (114, 115) “In exitu Israel” RV 604 for Easter of 1739, the mandolins (playing the violin roles) adding much variety to the homophonic choral style. A more varied and profound work, Vivaldi’s “Credo” in E-minor was given an outstanding performance. Accompanied by all six instrumentalists, it opened with vivid block chords; the “Et incarnatus” was performed in a meditative, devout manner, its musical text offering some dissonance, followed by the grieving “Crucifixus” sung to sparse, detached chords (the sharps written into the score for altered notes actually in the shape of crosses!), this section to be contrasted by the frenetic energy poured into “Et resurrexit”. The rarely performed and challenging oratorio “Dixit Dominus” RV 595, only rediscovered in the late 1960s in Prague, made a bold statement with its opening choral pointillism, accented by incisive rhythmic writing and word-painting, the performance colored with its mystery and tension and moments of lyricism. This superb setting of Psalm 110 offered the audience a fine opportunity to enjoy the Shahar Choir’s stable, vivid choral sound, its well-coordinated female section, its palette of timbres, some exciting music-making and two of its soloists. Performing two movements, tenor Daniel Portnoy (also heard in the opening work of the concert) expressed the text’s gestures in articulate, lively and unmannered singing. Young Eliran Kadussi, singing in the countertenor range for only three months, displayed a powerful voice and promise in the “Judicabit”, its melismatic passages a demanding task for any singer!
The concert included two Vivaldi instrumental works. Trio Sonata opus 1 no.2 in E-minor for two violins and basso continuo RV 67 is the second of the 12 composed in 1705. The violin parts were performed here on mandolin players Shmuel Elbaz and Jacob Reuven, the acoustic resonance of the Kiryat Ye’arim Church most favorable to the timbril combination of mandolins, organ, viola da gamba and double bass. Vivaldi’s trio sonata rang out in clear, transparent sounds, the opening Grave movement empathic, followed by Elbaz and Reuven in articulate interchange, enjoying the fiery concept of the Italian Corrente. This (enigmatically) was followed by a Giga, taken at a somewhat calmer pace, allowing for a vibrant and elegant playing. The sparkling viol solo (Amit Tiefenbrunn) in the final movement was yet another attractive aspect of the performance. Of the almost 600 concertos Vivaldi wrote, the Concerto in D-major RV 93 is one of four he composed in the 1730s with the lute in mind, these including the technical brilliance associated with lute players. Here, the soloist was Shmuel Elbaz, with Jacob Reuven and Roy Dayan taking on the violin roles. Certainly authentic in sound, Elbaz’ reading of the solo was expressive and singing, his playing of the central Largo movement free, pensive, delicate and tastefully ornamented, set against a pizzicato accompaniment. The final movement, dancelike, lively and varied, was no less rewarding.
Under the keenly attentive direction of Gila Brill, here was a concert of excellent choral singing and well-coordinated and supportive instrumental playing on the part of the basso continuo. As to the Israeli tradition of mandolin-playing, originating in Beer Sheva, we should hear more of its exponents in our concert halls.