REVIEW: @Apollos_Fire Dazzles @ Rocky River Presbyterian Church


By Laura Kennelly

Bright and dazzling, again.

Apollo’s Fire shone forth last week in another innovative and brilliant new program: Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews. Collaborating Co-Directors conductor Jeannette Sorrell and soprano Nell Snaidas (may they continue to collaborate for many more programs) created a new listening adventure that incorporated voices and instruments to devise a (dare I say?) magic carpet that swept Sunday afternoon’s large audience away to distant lands and distant times.

It was often a deeply moving journey. The medieval Sephardic songs that opened the program [translated as “I want to go to Jerusalem, mother” and “I Will Praise You, God of All Souls”] spoke to what might be a universal longing for true “home,” wherever or whatever that might be. (See? It makes me go all philosophical just recalling it.) Karim Sulayman (tenor), Jeffrey Strauss (baritone), plus the dozen plus Apollo’s Singers presented selections from the over two thousand years of Jewish history. A time, to quote Sorrell’s program notes, “during which the Jewish people . . . . scattered over the entire earth, influenced by almost every culture and tradition. . . . brought forth a folk song as distinctive as the people itself.”

While the Jews exiled to Spain in the 14th century created Ladino, a language whose lively force Snaidas, in glorious particular excels in capturing, there were also offerings from both sacred and folk repertoire from Italy (featuring composer Salamone Rossi in the early 17th century) and from other parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The most modern work featured the premiere of the Hebrew sacred text, “Adon Olam” (Lord of the Universe), as set convincingly to music by Apollo’s Fire cello player, Rene Schiffer.

Rex Benincasa (exotic percussion) and Tina Bergmann (hammered dulcimer) added to the otherworldly atmosphere. At one point Benincasa’s drumming, coming from seemingly nowhere made it sound as if the room was slowly vibrating, crumbling around us.

It was a lively and beautiful program, as Sorrell’s programs always are, but it also captured something different–even her conducting style was different, looser? more sensuous? than the crisp style used for Celtic music or American folk songs. Whatever it was, it was good, a treat for Ohio winter-weary ears.

[Photo: Jackie Mathey]


Laura Kennelly is a freelance arts journalist, a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, and an associate editor of BACH, a scholarly journal devoted to J. S. Bach and his circle.

Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.


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