In cantorial circles, Netanel Hershtik is a superstar. Cantor of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., and with 13 generations of cantors in his family behind him, the art of Middle Eastern microtonal ornamentation is in his blood. He and his synagogue’s 12-voice male choir, assisted by the Amernet String Quartet and pianist Alan Mason, offered an evening of “Cantorial Masterpieces” as the first of this season’s Pro Musica Hebraica concerts (chaired by The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer) in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Thursday. They even had the large and appreciative audience joining in on the “May the Holy Temple Be Rebuilt” encore.
The program ranged from music for the liturgy to music for the theater, but all of it embodied that potent combination of sinuous, Eastern modality and heart-on-the-sleeve 19th-century romantic operatic drama that can convey both sorrow and exultation with so much dramatic juice. And because the concert hall isn’t the synagogue, Hershtik’s vocal strengths came across most vividly in the theater pieces such as Moishe Oysher’s “One Little Goat.” Hershtik sings with wonderful agility, a command of subtle tonal inflection and a sense of total concentration, but his voice is a rather nasal tenor, splendid for the liturgy but difficult to love after 21 / 2 hours.
The choir, conducted by Izchak Haimov, sang with the energy and lush sonorities of a college glee club, and the Amernet Quartet, besides accompanying with dramatic tremolos and shining long-held harmonic background chords, gave, on its own, a splendid reading of Jacob Weinberg’s String Quartet, Op. 55, that was, in turn, sweet, serious and joyful.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.