A unique concert - its Israeli premiere - on the subject of David and Saul was performed on June 5th 2014 at the Felicja Blumenthal Music Center (Tel Aviv) by Kaleidoscope – Katharine Abrahams (Israel) and Bridget Cunningham (UK). Some of the music performed was based on the research of Parisian organist and composer Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (1912-2000), who devoted her enquiry to deciphering the melodies found in the Masoretic text, and on that of her American student John Wheeler. Their research focused on the ancient Jewish rite of singing the scriptures according to the once thriving musical system of the ancient Levites. The evening's program, filmed to be part of a documentary, included works from Baroque musical repertoire and earlier, a variety of readings and some Jewish prayers sung in melodies as deciphered in the thirty years of Haik-Vantoura's work.
The concert opened with a Niggun (melody) of music by Shlomo Carlebach, played by Bridget Cunningham. Harpsichordist and opera conductor, Cunningham has researched and recorded with London Early Opera. Her recent solo harpsichord CD "Hӓndel in Ireland" won her great acclaim. Throughout the evening, she performed some movements from Kuhnau's Biblical Sonata no.2. Johann Kuhnau (1660-1672), remembered as being Bach's predecessor as cantor of the Thomas School, Leipzig, published his six highly programmatic, complex and inventive keyboard (the keyboard instrument not specified) Biblical Sonatas in 1700, the second of which is titled "The Melancholy of Saul Assuaged by Means of Music". Its opening depicts Saul's melancholy in depth via chromatics and strange harmonies. Cunningham's virtuosic, easeful playing of the movements of the sonata was invigorating and picturesque, inspired and inspiring as she took the audience through "Saul's affliction and madness" to "the refreshing music of David's harp", ending with "the King more at peace". Her gently swayed reading of G.F.Hӓndel's Passacaille from Suite no.7 in g minor displayed her secure, forthright signature touch.
Katharine Abrahams, known to the Israeli concert scene as a Baroque 'cellist and recorder player, added much to the meditative atmosphere of the program with the tranquil, filigree sounds of her Celtic harp. Now on recorder, her playing of C.P.E. Bach's Sonata for transverse (Baroque) flute without bass H.562 was reflective and well delineated, breathing spontaneity. Then on 'cello, daring and personal inspiration and temperament were the basis for her reading of the Prelude and Allemande from J.S.Bach's 'cello Suite in G major BWV 1007, as she allowed the Allemande to dictate rubato and flexibility in performance that was rewarding. In A.Corelli's virtuosic "La Folia" in g minor (1702), Abrahams (recorder)and Cunningham created the variations with constant interest and in a gamut of moods; Cunningham's playing offered individual input, with Abrahams' playing rich in ornaments, textures and agility. Following the reading of writings of composer, keyboard player, singer and theorist J.Mattheson (1681-1764)in which he extols the qualities of music as "glorifying God, softening emotions, uniting and creating aversion to all vices, also having the power to cure mental- and other sicknesses", we heard the artists in a suave, melancholic reading of J.Mattheson's Air in g minor, their sound broad, generous and singing. Their fine sense of communication, coupled with the individual character of both instruments, came to the fore in a performance of D. Buxtehude's (1637/9-1707)Sonata in G major for viola da gamba.
In words on "the power of music", emphasizing the fact that the Jewish scriptures were intended to be sung, Katharine Abrahams posed the question of "what if we could really hear the sounds originally sung to the Scriptures as dictated by the te'amim (a "hidden" set of melodic signs appearing on the texts). Against the delicate sounds of the Celtic harp (and gentle humming on the part of Cunningham), she then performed the "Shema" prayer and the Aaronic Blessing, singing the melodies as deciphered by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. Abrahams' voice, pleasing well-anchored and unforced, mixes lyrical- with smoky timbres. Her singing of the texts comes from deep conviction.
The result of much thought and interesting planning, here was a highly creative and personal program, a far cry from mainstream concert fare, in the hands of two fine artists.
Katharine Abrahams and Bridget Cunningham have been performing together for 20 years, since their student days in London. In the meantime, Abrahams, who resides in Jerusalem, has been doing a lot of research on biblical music and the healing powers of music. Cunningham, who today lives in the Dordogne, France, spoke of their plans to expand the project, possibly also adding some orchestral music.