Tuesday, November 15, 2005
After fleeing European Nazism to the United States on the eve of World War II, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl could have easily turned inward and written music that expresses the pain of separation and exile. The Choral Arts Society performance Sunday afternoon at the Washington National Cathedral nicely showed how, instead, these two emigres took more outgoing approaches and reaffirmed their faith in Judaism.
Schoenberg's dense but approachable "Kol Nidre," Op. 39, sets ancient texts that permit Jews to repent after making vows counter to their faith. Maryland composer and cantor Arnold Saltzman narrated with clarity and force, while the orchestra and chorus, under the caring direction of J. Reilly Lewis, provided careening musical backdrop. Trembling strings mixed with rattling percussion to create an air of drama and mystery, while the chorus sang warmly.
Zeisl's "Requiem Ebraico," completed more than six years after Schoenberg's 1938 piece, provides a more direct message of consolation. The ensemble stayed mostly in peaceful places, etching melodies that rarely strayed from center. Soprano Constance Hauman, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop and baritone Andrew Garland gave beautiful solos, especially in the wonderfully rich and expansive closing passages.
In the first half, the National Symphony Orchestra's musical director, Leonard Slatkin, teased out the contrasting colors from Samuel Barber's "Toccata Festiva" for organ and orchestra, Op. 36, and the rhythmic energy of Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms," including a pure treble solo from St. Albans School seventh-grader Andrew Brown.
-- Daniel Ginsberg