Los Angeles Music Review: IL MANTOVANO HEBREO (Profeti Della Quinta at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple)

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by Daniel S. G. Wood on February 3, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

COLORATURA ME MINE

If ever there was a case for live music, a renaissance vocal ensemble is a compelling one. There is something so pure about five voices interacting in perfect harmony, especially in an exquisitely beautiful room. Such was the case last Thursday at the Da Camera Society’s Mid-Wilshire Festival; as part of its Cappella Series, Da Camera, which offers intimate concerts in historic settings, featured the Italian/Israeli vocal ensemble Profeti Della Quinta at the gorgeous and newly renovated Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

David Feldman, Lior Leibovici, Elam Rotem, Orí Harmelin, Dan Dunkelblum and Doron Schleifer - Profeti Della Quinta perform IL MANTOVANO HEBREO at the Wilshire Temple in Los Angeles.

The group sung mostly a collection of secular and religious music by the Italian Jewish composer and violinist Salomone Rossi (1570 – 1630). More than half of the program featured Psalms sung in Hebrew but embedded in a continental madrigal style, an almost unique wrinkle given Italy’s ambiguous attitude towards Jewish culture at the time. While Rossi made a great attempt to bolster Jewish culture by appropriating this music for synagogue services (ironic given that the style grew largely out of Christian institutions), mostly he was pandering to his employers, the Gonzaga, a noble family that ruled Mantua in Northern Italy from 1328 to 1708.

Orí Harmelin and Doron Schleifer - Profeti Della Quinta perform IL MANTOVANO HEBREO at the Wilshire Temple in Los Angeles.

The only effect this had on the music itself was of course sonic; as English, French, and Italian dominate the style, Hebrew’s guttural syllables and abrupt plosives become a welcome revelation. Though Della Quinta allowed their chitarrone (a.k.a. theorbo)* player one solo, and sung some of Rossi’s secular music in Italian for contrast and breadth, the Hebrew music was the evening’s focus. This does not minimize either, however: Lutenist Orí Harmelin played a Passcaglia by the contemporaneous Alesandro Piccinini (1566 – 1638) to a standing ovation, and the Italian works glistened.

Lior Leibovici, Orí Harmelin and Dan Dunkelblum - Profeti Della Quinta perform IL MANTOVANO HEBREO at the Wilshire Temple in Los Angeles.

Bass Elam Rotem and countertenor Doron Schleifer are the obvious heart and soul of the group: Rotem rooted the ensemble while Schleifer’s coloratura acrobatics were the evening’s constant highlight. Countertenor and tenors David Feldman, Lior Leibovici, and Dan Dunkelblum transcended their roles as essential facets of the collective musicianship, either blending perfectly or capably delivering periodic solos. Programs featuring only one kind of music face the constant threat of flatlining, but Interior of Wilshire Temple. Photo by Tom Bonner.the constant shift between Italian and Hebrew made the hour-plus program seem like twenty minutes. That Profeti Della Quinta’s sense of musical communion is obvious and organic helped as well – every syllable stopped and started together and the group breathed as one.

Also, a quick word about intonation and its role in this particular style: In no genre of music more than Renaissance vocals does a performance live or die by how in tune the group is. An ensemble in this category is as weak as its slightest flaw. For an idea of the constant adjustment and focus that a repertoire like this demands, imagine you and four other people are spinning plates on a boat in a storm. Even though this is the requisite, many groups never quite conquer this issue. Believe me, it is nothing short of remarkable that Profeti Della Quinta managed this for an entire evening.

* A chitarrone is a large lute with a double neck in common use during the baroque period, especially in Italy.

photo of Wilshire Boulevard Temple by Tom Bonner
production photos courtesy of Profeti Della Quinta

Il Mantovano Hebreo, music by Salomone Rossi
Profeti Della Quinta
Wilshire Blvd. Temple
presented by the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary’s College
played January 30, 2014
for future Da Camera Society events call 213.477.2929 or visit www.DaCamera.org
for more info on Profeti Della Quinta, visit www.quintaprofeti.com/

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