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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 22 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 47
Celebrating life - EMG's International Series presents traditional Jewish 'party music'
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Celebrating life - EMG's International Series presents traditional Jewish 'party music'

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

UNA FESTA EBRAICA
ENSEMBLE LUCIDARIUM/
EARLY MUSIC GUILD
TOWN HALL
November 16


You didn't have to be Jewish to enjoy this concert by Ensemble Lucidarium, presented by the Early Music Guild at Town Hall - but it might have helped. Music from Jewish celebrations of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, most of it vocal, filled the program and left most of the audience obviously very satisfied.

But a couple things got in my way as I tried to enjoy this event. First of all, I could not hear the words at all well because of the seat I was in and the poor acoustics of Town Hall. I could scarcely tell which language was being sung. There were, truth be told, good translations of the texts in the program, but I cannot truly listen to music and read at the same time. Thus, I had almost no understanding of what was going on.

Second, as I concentrated on the nature of the music itself, I found it rather unsophisticated in general, having a limited harmonic palette and being of a very repetitive nature. (The lecture before the concert explained that much of this music was designed to entertain at events characterized by mounting states of drunkenness! Sophistication, in other words, was not the goal.) Only the playful rhythms and the often-syncopated beat held much interest.

There were some interesting period instruments, expertly played, to entertain my ears. Of particular interest was seeing someone employ 'circular breathing' to play two recorders at once without ever appearing to breathe! By inhaling through his nose and using his cheeks as bellows, Marco Ferrari played a lengthy piece without the slightest pause for breath.

But the three vocalists were a mixed bag. One of the women had a beautiful, clear, well-produced soprano, while the other had poor breath control and an unsupported sound that lacked richness. The baritone was expressive but sang with a style and vocal production that went more for sobs and vocal cracks than beauty of sound. (It would have helped if I could have better heard his words.) His was instead an ethnic style of singing that can be fascinating. I remember being engrossed in hearing the same singer five years ago vocalizing verses from the Koran. But his sound, mixed up in the hall reverberations, washed over me this time without effect.

I hate writing such a negative review, and I stress that I am writing more about my experience than about the performers. I'm sure that if I had had a better seat, and if there had been supratitles to give the gist of what was being sung, that experience would have been a different story altogether. (Glancing at supratitles disturbs the musical experience much less than burying one's head in a printed translation in one's lap.)

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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