Sep 2002 Journal

previous article:Continental Britons
next article:Manuel dexterity: Profile of Andrew Sachs

Spitalfields Festival concerts

Christ Church, Spitalfields, London

The beguiling Eastern melodies and colours of the Ladino prayer Benedicho Su Nombre, in a world premiere arrangement by Malcolm Singer, formed a highlight of a thrilling concert by the charismatic, Greek-born American cantor Alberto Mizrahi, with the formidable BBC Singers conducted by Malcolm Singer. The concert was a highlight of the Spitalfields Festival, which this year, under the artistic director Jonathan Dove, was devoted to Jewish music, the first stage of a continuing focus on East End immigrant communities.

Cantor Mizrahi - affectionately known as the 'Jewish Pavarotti' - dazzled the audience with his strident, operatic tenor voice and spine-tingling 'falsetto' range, in a fascinating programme from the earliest and most recent Jewish music, spiced with his charismatic introductions. Especially evocative were two medieval chants - the twelth-century Obadiah the Proselyte and Ladino Respondemus - which Mizrahi embellished with ravishing rhapsodies. More virtuoso and intense were a series of dramatic cantorial war-horses - Mana-Zucca's Rachem and works by Roitman, Zilberts and Rosenblatt, while his rendition of Kurt Weill's Kiddush was especially appealing, with its slinky Broadway-blues melody. And there was much to enjoy in a recently composed Sephardic Havdalah by American cantor Charles Osborne, full of attractive Eastern dances and sweetly harmonized melody.

Throughout, Mizrahi's stirring voice found a superb complement in the exquisite singing, in precise Hebrew, of the BBC Singers and piano accompaniment of Iain Farrington. Lucidly conducted by Malcolm Singer, this superb choir infused rich beauty into Hebrew Psalm settings by the seventeenth-century Salamone Rossi, Schubert (who composed Psalm 92 for the Vienna Synagogue), Louis Lewandowski, the atonal Arnold Schoenberg, and Singer's own Psalms 100 and 117, which came across with atmosphere and bite. Fuelled by Mizrahi's charismatic introductions, the evening concluded memorably with the mixed Jewish and non-Jewish audience applauding and singing enthusiastically in the zestful encores, a tongue-twisting 'Had Gadya', and a Sephardi 'Yismach Moshe'. Soaring operatically above the BBC Singers at full tilt, tambourine in hand, Alberto Mizrahi was clearly relishing every moment.
Malcolm Miller

previous article:Continental Britons
next article:Manuel dexterity: Profile of Andrew Sachs