Zamir Chorale of Boston’s focused on Jewish music originating in Italy for the rewarding finale of its 54th season Thursday evening. At Newton’s Temple Emanuel, Joshua Jacobson led the prestigious ensemble, and a large crowd turned out to cheer them. Jacobson served 45 years as Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University, including nine years as Music Department Chairman and six years as the Bernard Stotsky Professor of Jewish Cultural Studies. He is also Visiting Professor and Senior Consultant in the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College. He conducted and his 55 choristers sang with commitment, heart and joy. The room buzzed a bit like a very large family reunion. Stressing outreach, the handout included five pages devoted to donors but no essays on the music.
The extraordinary Italian-Jewish composer and violinist Salamone Rossi (c. 1570-c.1630) has been the subject of a great deal of attention in recent years, and this program prominently featured his works, as well as honoring the 400th anniversary of the publication of his famed Ha-Shirim Asher Lishlomo (Songs of Solomon). Rossi set many Biblical Hebrew texts to music in their original Hebrew language, which makes him unique among Baroque composers.
The evening opened, appropriately, with the first of three arrangements of the psalm of welcome, Barukh Ha-ba, this one by Rossi. The other two, from the pens of Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco (1895-1968) and Amadio Di Sengi (1837-1925), appeared towards and at the end of the concert. We also heard various solos and small ensembles, along with mostly choral numbers. The excellent instrumentalists included Edwin Swanborn on organ, Olav Chris Hendriksen on the formidable-looking chitarrone, the ubiquitous, always excellent Carol Lewis on viola da gamba, a superb recorder player, Emily O’Brien, Taki Masuko on percussion, and the stellar keyboard player, Lois Shapiro, who was listed as pianist. However, here she played a synthesizer, a Yamaha MO8. While she and the machine imitated a perfectly written harp part, this reviewer wondered why Zamir didn’t simply hire a harpist. It would have been such a perfect addition to this distinguished bevy of instrumentalists.
One other quick quibble: A really lovely narrator appeared many times, and added grace and beauty to the evening, yet the roster only listed her as a chorister. She is soprano Sharon Shore, and I heartily applaud her. Joshua Jacobson, a delightful raconteur, gave just the right amount of introduction to the pieces, eight of which came from Rossi. Other composers included Amadio Di Segni (1837-1925), whose Hashkiveinu (my favorite prayer), “Grant, O God, that we lie down in peace, and raise us up, our Guardian, to life renewed. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Guide us with Your good counsel; for Your Name’s sake, be our help. Shield and shelter us beneath the shadow of Your wings,” highlighted the evening for this listener. Sung just beautifully by tenors D.J. Fortine and Steven Ebstein, it began as a solo, then segued into a heart-melting duet. Soprano Liana Perlman distinguished herself in her many solos, and my former cantillation teacher, soprano Louise Treitman, added an extra touch of beauty whenever she sang.
The winning encore divided the chorus into three parts—two sections standing along the aisles, one on the stage—to sing “Va Pensiero.” (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco. I would have loved a Rossi madrigal, but this was the next best thing judging by a very pleased crowd.