Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Rose Ensemble: voices from the past, maybe

I was pleased to be assigned to review the Rose Ensemble's performance at the Modlin Center -- it wasn't a concert I had prioritized for review, since space is so limited for coverage of non-local, non-famous groups. Here's the link to my review of Wednesday night's performance. Please read and return here!

As it happened, earlier that day I had spent a good 30 minutes on YouTube listening to different performances of "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Summertime" from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." The variety of interpretations was inspiring. I loved simply hearing the difference, for example, between Ella Fitzgerald's and Janis Joplin's voices.

I mention this as background to my assessment of the Rose's uniformity of vocal timbre, because this idea of variety was on my brain (although not specifically in expectation of the concert). Yes, they did employ subtle vocal differences among songs, and their stage presence (including expressions, gestures and body language) was notably communicative--maybe I should have made more of this in my review. But by and large, they were singing in what I think of as typical Western choral fashion: from the belly through the skull, O-mouths, warm sound.

Ensemble leader Jordan Sramek's solo on "Et Sha'are Ratzon," a Libyan Sephardic song for Rosh Hashanah, came closer in vocal sound to what I imagined several of the pieces on the program might have sounded like originally--a more penetrating, calling, upper-body quality-- and I liked it.

I tried to be careful not to say anything should sound a certain way--that's not the way I approach music, and in any case, the Rose Ensemble makes its professional decisions with far more information at hand than I have. I hope the point I got across was that at least one person is open to hearing sounds that are unfamiliar, foreign, ancient.

Here are two instruments I had the pleasure of hearing at the concert: the vielle, a 5-stringed medieval fiddle (at left), and the smaller rebec. We also heard an oud, harp, psaltery and 5 different drums.

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