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The Triangle Jewish Chorale under the direction of Lorena Guillén presented the 6th annual Rishie Baroff Memorial Concert at the Levin Jewish Community Center. The concert laid out "The Adaptable Psalm" – choral selections inspired by the magnificent poetry attributed to David but in reality a collection representing numerous talented and inspired Jewish poets. They give us comfort, lift our hearts and reveal great truths. They are found all over the world where men and women of faith seek to know the creator and the creation. They are found in every language and in every culture. So clearly they are also adaptable to every kind of musical setting imaginable.
The program began with three settings of the beloved 23rd Psalm. The first, from The Bay Psalm Book, was arranged by the composer Jean Berger, who was born Arthur Schloßberg in Germany, in 1909. He moved to Paris in 1933 where he took the French name Jean Berger, then to Rio de Janerio and in 1941 to the United States, where he served in the U. S. Army and became a citizen in 1943. This lovely tune, "The Lord to Me a Shepherd Is," from colonial days, was beautifully performed in Berger's fine arrangement, drawing on the comfort and peace of the Psalm.
Virgil Thomson's arrangement is based on a folk tune and the poetic revision from Isaac Watts: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." This familiar tune has been sung or hummed or whistled or played on a harmonica from the plains and the prairies to the shores of two oceans and far abroad in times of conflict.
The third version of the 23rd Psalm was sung in the original Hebrew and featured the boy treble Grey Lehman. Taken from Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, "Adonai Roi" was a highlight of the concert with the young man's voice echoing what must have been a mystical moment in the life of David, the shepherd boy who grew to be King.
Adding richness and meaning to the concert, each selection was introduced by a different member of the chorus, providing a few words about the background of the music and illustrating the adaptability of the Psalm.
A group of settings of Psalm 115 began with "Odecha Ki Anitani" by Salamone Rossi (1570-c.1630), an Italian Jewish composer in the early Baroque. He has been compared to Monteverdi, with whom he was in service to the court of Mantua. This piece was performed by a quartet of voices – Connie Margolin, Arlene Pike, Judith Ruderman, and Marie Hammond – with the accompaniment of J. Samuel Hammond, piano, Katherine Register, viola da gamba, and Elizabeth Clark, tenor recorder.
There followed "Bénissez-Nous," a French Sephardic song that switches between French and Hebrew. Next came a rhythmic version of a traditional Yemenite melody with drum accompaniment by Sandy Blocker, an arrangement by Eleanor Epstein of "Ozi Zimrat Yah." Then there was "Samachti B'Omrim Li," a gorgeous setting of Psalm 122 by Cantor Charles Davidson, who also composed the awesome and deeply moving I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a collection of poetry written by the children of Terezin, 1941-44.
The next grouping included three settings of Psalm 137. The first was another Baroque delight by Salamone Rossi using the same piano, viola da gamba, and tenor recorder accompaniment as above. Then came Giuseppi Verdi's stirring "Va, Pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves), from the opera Nabucco. Though not a setting of the Psalm per se, it was inspired by Psalm 137.
This was followed by the pop song "Rivers of Babylon," a Rastafarian song written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trever McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians in 1970.
The final group of three numbers focused on the great Psalm of praise, No. 150. The first two were both rhythmical tour de forces with percussion by Sandy Blocker. "Haleluyah," by Mallorcan composer Neil Manel Frau-Cortes, featured a delightful solo by Rebecca Grossfeld and a lively Brazilian melody. "Hal'luhu," by Rabbi Benjie Ellen Schiller, featured excellent soprano soloist Connie Margolin and sprightly rhythms. The closing piece on the program was "Hal'luyah" by the classically trained Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894), who was music director at the Neue Synagogue in Berlin for most of his life. His contribution to Jewish liturgical music is vast, and many of his Psalm settings and other significant works are still heard today in synagogues around the world. It was a fitting conclusion to this concert, sung with vigor and firm musical refinement.
The Triangle Jewish Chorale is made up of students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and retirees, not all Jewish. The members share a love of singing and of bringing the joy of Jewish music to audiences in the Triangle. Their director, Lorena Guillén, is a well-trained, knowledgeable, and vivacious leader who has helped mold this group (now in their twentieth year) into a significant and pleasurable resource for Triangle audiences.