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The concert had begun with a bang in the energetic robust textures of the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim's Roni Akara, a setting of Isaiah Chapter 54, the second movement of which is a repeated ground bass, sung by a confident bass section, overlaid with ever intensifying strands from tenors, altos and sopranos, all woven into a thrilling climax. Benjamin Wolf's own setting of Ma Tovu ('How Goodly Are Thy Tents') that followed, received an impressive world première. Its well-proportioned ternary form allowed the melodic inventiveness full rein, the melismatic outer sections enveloping a more sustained central section, with appealingly bright harmony that took some delightfully unexpected twists and turns along the way.
The Barbershop Quartet. From left to right: Marc Finer, Benjamin Wolf, Elliot Alderman, Ben Seifert
The other main fare of the first half was a selection from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Sabbath Eve Service, sung in turn by tenors Eliot Alderman and Marc Finer. Challenging for the choir on account of the many imitative textures and intriguing modally inflected harmony, the pieces were progressively more finely coordinated, and contrasted by the reflective Shiviti, a psalm setting from the memorial prayer, in which the pure tonal harmony is tinged with plangent dissonance. A surprising moment came when conductor Benjamin Wolf announced his own participation in a newly formed Barbershop ensemble ... which then gave suavely flowing accounts of two Lewandowski settings, Tsadik Katamar ('The Righteous will flourish' -- Psalm 92) and Halleluja, a wedding favourite.
Copyright © 18 November 2006
Malcolm Miller, London UK