GISÈLE BEN-DOR , conductor

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Saturday, May 16, 1998

Ben-Dor shows range at close of Israel salute

By Daniel Webster

The citywide salute to Israel's half-century of independence closed with a concert Sunday that hauled a wide net through the sea of Israeli and Jewish music. At the Academy of Music, Gisèle Ben-Dor led the Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra, a choir and soloists in music that ranged from a Leonard Bernstein song to heroic Handel choruses.

The polyglot conductor was making her local debut, a difficult task given the variety and number of works programmed. A Mozart aria was placed next to music by Louis Gesensway, and Ben-Dor had to follow mezzo-soprano Rinat Shahm from a Handel aria immediately to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."

She stood, however, as a sturdy, unflappable commander who appeared, sometimes through sheer will, to unify and move things, and sometimes through enthusiasm to reach some high points. She proved a flexible and helpful accompanist with Shaham and with cellist Jeffery Solow, and clearly had the gift for drawing concentrated and musical singing from the chorus assembled from the Mendelssohn Club and Singing City choirs.

The fragmentary programming worked against the idea of building toward some dramatic high point, but the final few pieces, including "Hatikvah" and "Haleluya" by Kobi Oshrat established an emotional tone missing from the earlier selections.

Ben-Dor made a large thing from Gesensway's Suite on Jewish Themes . The piece, by the late Latvian-born Philadelphia Orchestra violinist, used good dance tunes in simple ways to create strong instrumental writing. The long viola song in the first selection summarized the best of the evening's playing.

Shaham sang an aria from Mozart's Davide penitente , from Handel oratorios and songs by Bernstein and Gershwin. The long line of "In Jehovah's awful sight," from Handel's Deborah , focused the best of her singing.

In Tzvi Avni's Kaddish , Solow played a strongly singing performance. Ben-Dor moved the orchestra firmly from piece to piece, stressing clear rhythms and urging playing marked by character. She began with the premiere of David Saturen's Fanfare Halleluia , a piece that concisely used orchestra and chorus to evoke music from Eastern Europe and Jewish ritual. (No additional performance.)

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