On December 9, the first day of Chanukah, the Triangle Jewish Chorale and Mappamundi presented a joint concert at Judea Reform Congregation on West Cornwallis Road in Durham. The Chorale is directed by Jane Peppler, who is also a mainstay of the other, smaller ensemble.
The first half of the concert featured the 31-member Chorale in a short program of lovely folksongs, composed works of various kinds and liturgical music. In the former category were "Imi Notna Leviva-Li," sung in Hebrew, and "Una Noche al Lunar" and "Los Bibilicos," both of Ladino (Sephardic) origin. "Light One Candle" by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) served as the evening's second specific reminder of the season; before the concert, a first candle had also been lit, in honor of the occasion. Italian Renaissance master Salomone Rossi, said to have been the first musician in modern times to compose a collection of choral motets in Hebrew for the synagogue, was represented by "Barechu," which a member of the chorus told us is one of the ensemble's bread-and-butter pieces. Two contrasting settings of "Shalom Aleichem," by Miriam Shatal and William Sharlin, proved fascinating in their varied treatments of the text, which begins "Peace be to you." D. Amihud's "Shir Tishri," a song of the First Month that addresses the change of season and preparation for the Days of Awe, was followed by the far lighter "Gris, Bagris," a Yiddish song of evening by Lazar Weiner for which the TJC's Musia and Marty Lakin had contributed a third verse. Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller's "Shalom Rav" and Cantor Rena Shapiro's arrangement of the traditional "Eili, Eili" brought this section of the program to a serene close. The soloists included the impressive soprano Nancy Roccamora and tenor Bill Blau, and the choir sang with great feeling throughout. They were warmly received by the large crowd, which spilled beyond the nominal confines of the room. Mappamundi then performed a single Yiddish song, given as a duet by Peppler and Beth Holmgren, after which the first half ended with a stirring reading of a Hallelujah Chorus by Louis Lewandowski that may outdistance Handel's more familiar version in the fervor department and is surely more concise. The pianist was Gary Berman.
Mappamundi's portion of the concert covered a lot of ground, too, encompassing a single Bulgarian song, Yiddish and Sephardic items, and much, much more. The ensemble, whose members include vocalists Peppler and Holmgren plus instrumentalists Robbie Link (whose name will resonate among our regular classical readers) and Ken Bloom. As it happens, all of these artists play a wide range of instruments--Bloom's kit includes guitar, zither, mandolin, clarinet, recorder and Northumbrian pipes (not demonstrated on this occasion); Link appeared as a bassist, cellist and pianist; Holmgren seemed to manage percussion and even a kazoo while tending to her vocal assignments; and Peppler had brought along a violin and a viola, both of which she played (not concurrently, of course) while singing. The Klezmatics would have been amazed at the results, and the Judea Reform audience certainly seemed pleased--so much so that at least one listener couldn't resist humming along with what may have been popular tunes in her childhood. The music was in a wide range of styles and conveyed equally wide-ranging moods and emotions, and the varied accompaniments added to the diversity of this part of the concert. Many of the selections tugged directly at the heartstrings through reverence or longing or joy or, in some cases, resignation. At the end, the Triangle Jewish Chorale joined Mappamundi for a pair of spiritual numbers - Nechemia Sharabi's "Eliyahu Hanavi," with duets by Peppler and Holmgren, which reassures listeners that the Messiah will come, and "Ocho Kandelikas," in Ladino, a happy song about Chanukah, which brought us full circle.
Mappamundi has released a new CD ("World Music Our Way") that contains some of the numbers performed at this concert and a host of folk and world music from many lands. A CD release party and concert centering on non-Jewish music is planned for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, December 16, at the ArtsCenter. See our calendar for details.
The Triangle Jewish Chorale and Mappamundi are both featured on the new "Dixie Diaspora" compact disc compilation of Jewish music by Triangle Area performers. The TJC website is http://tjc.8k.com/ [inactive 9/07], and Mappamundi's is http://www.mappamundi.com/.